Women working to speed up discovery of Alzheimer’s drug shortlisted for major award

Three women in the UK using artificial intelligence to speed up the development of drugs to treat Alzheimer’s have been shortlisted for a major prize for female entrepreneurs.

Microsoft has today named 20 companies across the world as finalists in its Female Founders competition, including five from the UK. Four winners will receive a share of $6m in funding from Microsoft, Mayfield and Melinda Gates’s Pivotal Ventures.

The finalists include iLof, from Oxford, which was co-founded by COO Mehak Mumtaz, CTO Joana Paiva and CSO Paula Sampaio. They are using AI to build a cloud-based library of disease biomarkers, which could be used to drastically reduce the cost and time of drug discovery. It could also lead to more portable and easily accessible screening tools for conditions such as Alzheimer’s.

Oxford Quantum Circuits, founded by Dr Ilana Wisby, is another finalist. The company is developing a groundbreaking Quantum Computing as a Service platform to enable partners and customers to solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges, from encryption security to climate change.

Contilio, from London, is the world’s first 3D AI analytics platform and is helping the $12 trillion construction industry to save money on large projects. The company was set up by Zara Riahi.

The co-founders of iLof and Oxford Quantum Circuits

The co-founders of iLof and Oxford Quantum Circuits

Cledara, founded by Cristina Vila, is a purchasing and analytics platform for businesses that need to manage and control recurring subscription payments.

Finally, Deployed is a productivity platform for the $3 trillion of services transacted across the world via Statements of Work. The business was founded by CEO Emma Rees and COO Kayleigh Kuptz.

The Female Founders competition is open to women who have set up a company in the US, Europe, Israel and India. As well as funding, the winners will be given access to technology, resources, mentoring and other benefits.

An independent review for the UK government last year found that only one in three entrepreneurs in the UK is a woman, a gender gap equivalent to more than 1m fewer female entrepreneurs. Businesses that are run by women are, on average, half the size of male-led firms and far less likely to scale up to a £1m turnover. Closing the gap between women and men could add an additional £250bn to the UK economy, the review found.

The founders of Contilio, Cledara and Deployed

The founders of Contilio, Cledara and Deployed

Tamara Steffens, Managing Director at M12 – Microsoft’s venture fund – said: “We announced our second Female Founders Competition to reach outside of standard inroads and identify those game-changing women entrepreneurs disrupting the enterprise. We expanded our geographic reach, added a new award category and increased our combined investment by $2m to provide a wider greater opportunity for this community. The applications were impressive, and we were blown away by the expertise, creativity, and passion from these founders.”

The Female Founders finalists will pitch to a panel of judges over the next two days via Microsoft Teams.