Home Latest News SME competition offers Franklin expertise for research challenge

UK life science SMEs could win access to the latest technologies and high-level scientific support worth up to £50,000 in a competition launched by the Rosalind Franklin Institute today, at Bioforward 2022.

The Franklin is the national institute developing disruptive new technologies designed to tackle major challenges in health and life sciences. The competition aims to make these technologies – and the expertise of Franklin scientists – available to a small company in the UK to help them overcome a specific research challenge.


The winning company will take part in a 12-week residency starting in April 2023, working with Franklin scientists to use technologies at the cutting edge of the field.

The competition is open to any life sciences company wholly based in the UK with fewer than 50 employees and a research problem that Franklin technologies could help to tackle over the 12-week period. The opportunity is particularly relevant to SMEs, start-ups, spin outs or micro-entities in the pharmaceutical, diagnostics, imaging, agricultural, chemistry or food technology fields.

Dr Marcus Gallagher Jones using the cryoARM, known as Crewe

Some of the key technologies on offer include:

  • Cryo-Plasma Focused Ion Beam Scanning Electron Microscopy (FIBSEM), which the Franklin has developed to allow imaging of native samples at resolutions up to 20nm for a volume of 150µ3, with the option of imaging either higher resolution or larger areas. Using this technique can provide information on organelle positioning, volume, and shape and elements of the macromolecular complex such as nuclear pore complex and centrioles providing a full insight of the sample at mesoscale.
  • Energy-filtered 3D electron diffraction (ef3DED) to provide accurate structure determination from nanocrystalline material particularly small molecule or peptide molecules such as those derived from natural products. Ef3DED requires only a modest amount of material and is an ideal technique for determining structures from samples where producing large single crystals has proven intractable.
  • Data analysis and interpretation – including sub tomographic averaging of organelles or other targets of interest. Companies can either bring existing datasets to the Franklin for analysis or use the Franklin’s resources to analyse data gathered using the above imaging techniques. This might be automated/semi-automated reconstruction of tilt series, assessment of image quality or machine learning-based segmentation.

To be considered, companies must submit an expression of interest by 22 November 2022.

Up to 20 companies will be shortlisted and invited to take part in a workshop held at the Franklin’s Harwell campus in mid-December 2022. At the workshop, they’ll be able to discuss their ideas with Franklin scientists, to help them develop a full project plan to be submitted by the end of January 2023. The winner will be selected in the middle of February, with the residency to begin in April.

The Franklin will cover costs directly for access and instrument use, consumables used on site and for pre-agreed travel and accommodation costs. The value of the residency will depend on the technology used, but is likely to range between £10-50K. All intellectual property generated during the residency will reside with the SME.

Director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute, Professor James Naismith, said: “Our remit is to develop new technologies to transform life sciences – and how better to do that than through helping one of the UK’s many life science SMEs? Not only is this an amazing opportunity for the winning company, but it allows us to test out the new technologies we’re developing and understand better how they could be used in different scenarios.

“This is a great chance for a company working on a small molecule, on biologics or nucleic acids – but there are also many other possibilities where our technologies could make a difference. We’re excited to see the ideas that companies put forward and to see how we can help.”

Supporting innovative SMEs is at the heart of government strategy for life science. Sinead Balgobin, Head of Regional Engagement, from the Franklin’s funder, UK Research and Innovation’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, said: “It’s great to see the launch of this competition which will bring together SMEs and researchers to tackle life science challenges. Collaboration and cross-sector initiatives, which improve the accessibility of research infrastructure and technical skills to a diverse industry, have a key role in our newly published Delivery Plan.”

More information on the competition and entry requirements can be found here.


For more information, contact:

Abigail Chard, Campus PR, T: 07960448532 E: abigail@campuspr.co.uk 

Caitlin Higgott, Rosalind Franklin Institute, E: Caitlin.Higgott@rfi.ac.uk

Rosalind Franklin Institute