Here on created by us we will be featuring the stories of both current and former students of the University of Sussex School of Engineering and Informatics – finding out what they are up to and where they are… First up, for the first week of term is MSc Advanced Mechanical Engineering graduate, Thomas Irps…
hello! What is your name please?
Hello, my name is Thomas Irps
what did you study at Sussex and when did you graduate?
I graduated in 2012 with Distinction in MSc Advanced Mechanical Engineering
what have you been working on since you graduated?
During the whole period I have been working on the BodyRocket project but I have also been continuing the research I conducted during my Masters at Sussex.
tell us a bit more about the BodyRocket…
I teamed up with Eric DeGolier who is a former elite cyclist and an engineer himself. What we have managed to do is bring the aerodynamic drag measurement of a cyclist outside the wind tunnel and on to the road. Pro cycling teams will spend thousands of pounds in the wind tunnel to optimise the aerodynamic efficiency of the cyclist as the bikes are already very efficient and represent only a small fraction of the total drag. Yet the wind tunnel only provides data for a single point in time and for very isolated cases. The other benefit will be that everybody will be able to access such a performance tool and it will even the playing field.
I have cycled since I was little, but never called myself a cyclist and specially since riding with Eric who enjoys winning King of the Hill challenges on Strava it became obvious I’m not a good cyclist.
interesting, so how long have you been working on the project to date?
We have been working on it for two years now, but with different intensities as we have been self-financing the project.
and what stage are you at now?
We have proven the system in the wind tunnel and we are currently completing the full system to evaluate athletes on the road.
can you tell us a bit more about the recent Santander Universities Entrepreneurship Award and how you got on?
We got notified that there was a national Santander Universities Entrepreneurship competition coming up and as we had already participated in the local Sussex competition we were encouraged to participate. We already had a business plan but we are engineers and not MBA’s and Sussex Innovation Centre really helped our existing Executive Summary and Business plan as well as preparing us for the presentation. From a large selection we were shortlisted to the final 5 which were then invited to do the presentation. Again it was one of those periods where all nights went long into the morning getting the live demonstration of the technology smooth and remembering all the key topics for the presentation. It was a great joy to participate and we met a lot of interesting people.
fantastic – and how will the award assist you?
As with the Sussex Santander 2012 bursary, the money of this Award will go straight to the purchase of components and covering manufacturing costs. Prototyping highly accurate sensors is painstakingly difficult and expensive, therefore there is a lot of modelling and planning iterations involved before we go ahead with anything. But it is also the recognition of the fact that we have a sound business plan, competencies on delivering which makes people want to listen to what we have to offer.
so would you recommend other designers and engineers entering competitions?
I would recommend designers and engineers to take their ideas and turn them into businesses. Competitions are a great way to prove your idea, gain funding for their development and also validates the skills set that you have developed. Ultimately though they are a stepping stone on the way to bringing your idea to the world.
we hear you are coming back to Sussex – what will you be up to?
Yes I am. And I am really looking forward to getting started. I will be embarking on a PhD at the Thermo Fluid Mechanics Research Lab and will be specialising in experimental aerodynamics with an application to turbomachinery.
great! any particular reason you chose to return to Sussex?
It’s primarily the staff, their research interests and the facilities at the Thermo Fluid Mechanics Research Lab which made me want to stay at Sussex. In particular my supervisor Dr. Kanjirakkad is a great mentor. This will also allow me to maintain a strong relationship with the Sussex Innovation Centre as we continue to complete the cycling sensor.
lastly, what are your top three tips for budding entrepreneurs like yourself?
Persistence & sacrifices – It is a massive undertaking to start a project from scratch. If it was easy everybody would be doing it. Be prepared to go without doing lot of hobbies as the project will consume your time.
Motivation & harmony – If you have decided to start such a project than you already have a motivation to do so. So now you have to stimulate it because, there a going to be a lot of bumpy roads ahead. Seldom is a project done alone and so you will always work in a team so make it a great environment to be in, because in a sense your investing your life and it would be horrible to have to hate what you are trying to achieve.
Don’t be afraid of your knowledge gaps – You will never know everything, identify your limitations and know who you can talk to in order to either learn new skills or to get help.
That is wonderful – thank you Thomas for the insight into your project and research. We look forward to catching up with you as you continue your journey at the University of Sussex…
(images courtesy of Thomas Irps – Bodyrocket)