Women In Innovation Success Stories: Helen Xiaoqin Ma, Anteam Ltd, East Midlands
Modernising local delivery services
When Helen Xiaoqin Ma and her team at Anteam joined Innovate UK’s Women in Innovation Programme, the team were operating in what they called “stealth mode”, developing and validating the AI algorithms that would underpin their innovative logistics network.
Funded by the Department for Transport, they carried out a feasibility study of the AI algorithms and were conducting a trial with a prototype of their app, with the aim of providing local delivery services for businesses and the community, reducing carbon emissions in the process by making deliveries more efficient.
“Anteam’s innovation will deliver benefits to society, the economy and the environment but it is dependent on people changing their behaviour whilst being supported by our technology,” says Helen.
“The validation of our ideas and innovation is critical for business success as it will ensure that we can achieve a strong market launch. The experiments also highlighted new areas that we need to strengthen our offering, whilst providing the evidence needed to attract further investments in the future.”
Tackling gender bias and loneliness
Helen believes that the financial support Anteam received through the Women in Innovation Programme accelerated the business by “at least 12 months”, allowing the team to work with early adopters and validate key elements of the product, as well as working out their pricing structure. This has allowed them to transition from pre-revenue status to revenue generating, which has in turn helped them to identify scaling challenges early on.
As well as this, Helen has been able to address two key personal challenges. The first is the external challenge of being a woman in the business innovation ecosystem, which is still very male dominated. Helen was also born outside of the UK and lives in the East Midlands, away from the “Golden Triangle” area of London, Oxford and Cambridge, which she feels intensified the challenge of building a network and support structure.
Being part of the programme gave her a ready-made network and opportunities for connection. And this in itself helped with the second challenge – the loneliness that comes with being an entrepreneur.
“I can sometimes feel that I am the only one facing these challenges,” says Helen. “I find lots of female entrepreneurs share the same feelings as me. We usually take on the caring responsibility to look after the family and business and we judge ourselves very harshly. We tend to ‘burn out’ and blame ourselves when it happens.”
The benefits of funding and community
With the support and funding from the Women in Innovation Award, Anteam has hired new staff and contractors, generated revenue, and is now close to soft-launching their logistics network after signing up a number of customers to the network. They have also saved 2.6 tonnes of CO2 – and that number is still growing.
On the awards front, the team recently secured the Fast Start Innovation grant from Innovate UK, and Helen has been selected to join the Women in Sustainability Innovation Accelerator by the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership. She has also been a mentor for the “Queen of Green 2022” Delegation, which brought together women in EnergyTech.
But the most important aspect, Helen says, is having access to the Women in Innovation community, which provided her and the rest of the awardees with a safe and open space to share successes and struggles.
“I would strongly encourage innovators from underserved communities to apply [to similar Innovate UK funding opportunities],” says Helen. “If you think that you may not be good enough, please think again. We may be deeply programmed or influenced by society to carry such beliefs, but it does not necessarily mean it is true. You will benefit hugely from being part of a community, sharing the same challenges you are facing every day, and you will find a safe place where you can be open and grow together with others.”