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Two Girtonians win national award for innovation

(L-R) photographs of Rafmary Millan Reyes Baker and Dami Folayan

Innovate UK has announced that Girton PhD student Dami Folayan (2020) and Girton alumna Rafmary Millan Reyes Baker (2017) will each receive a prestigious Unlocking Potential Award

The awards will support Dami and Rafmary to grow innovative business ideas into market products, and will be granted by the UK’s Innovation Agency, part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). 

Dami, who is studying for a PhD in Education, receives the award for her project, “Enhancing Textured Hairstyling With Sustainable Products: the Plant-Based Future of Textured Hair Extensions”, which is centred around the production of biodegradable textured hair extensions. 

Currently, the textured hair extension market offers consumers the limited options of purchasing human hair extensions, which can reach up to $400 per pound, or synthetic plastic hair extensions made of single-use plastics, that take up to 100 years to break down, for around $10 per pound. 

By introducing a plant-based alternative to the market, through her PhD sponsor Niyo Group, Dami hopes to make the textured hair industry more economically viable and environmentally sustainable.

Dami shared: 

“I am truly pleased to have Innovate UK’s backing on this project. Being an awardee will enable me to conduct much-needed market research and introduce me to a network of innovators and investors that can help drive my idea forward. I am really looking forward to improving sustainability practices within the textured hair industry. I hope that other students will be inspired to drive their innovative ideas forward in the knowledge that the pursuit of academic excellence doesn’t automatically mean stifling innovation and creativity.”

Rafmary, who studied an MPhil in Development Studies at Girton from 2017 to 2018, wins the award for her innovative idea which aims to narrow the skills deficit which is projected to cost the United Kingdom £120 billion by 2030. 

Her approach focuses on engaging young people who have self-excluded or are at risk of excluding themselves from society, by equipping them with the necessary combination of skills that will allow them to thrive, achieve financial independence, and become successful entrepreneurs. 

Rafmary stated:

“We are very grateful to Innovate UK, part of the UK Research and Innovation, for the resources provided to make the project, 'Mind the Skills Gap: Lead. Innovate. Excel,' a reality. Their support will enable us to deliver 3 Future Skills Bootcamps, with 5 modules each, so that young people from Peterborough can have free access to this wonderful initiative. Our unwavering passion lies in granting every individual the chance to embrace educational experiences that enrich their lives and unveil boundless possibilities."

In line with the UK’s growing appetite for innovation, this new award programme was amongst the most highly engaged funding competitions Innovate UK has ever delivered – with over 2,100 entrepreneurs applying for funding and business mentorship. There is an urgent need to transform the UK’s skills and talent pipeline, through inspiring and connecting people to new opportunities and pathways into innovation. Innovate UK estimates that, to achieve the UK’s full economic potential, 400,000 more innovators need to be supported, from entrepreneurs to engineers.

Photograph (L-R): Rafmary Millan Reyes Baker and Dami Folayan