Co-founders, Claire Trant and Jay Bullen
Untap uses PCR technology to monitor wastewater and detect viruses like COVID-19, and uses this technology to monitor community health in places like offices, schools, hospitals, care homes, colleges, and manufacturing and training facilities. Wastewater monitoring can detect viral carriers up to a week earlier than lateral flow tests, which allows for early viral detection.
Workplace wellness / Wastewater engineering
At the very beginning of the pandemic, Claire Trant, co-founder of Untap, had just finished a PhD with Rolls Royce in aeroplane engine development. However, COVID-19 devastated the commercial aerospace industry, which led Claire into the sewage sector.
'The reason why sewage was interesting during the pandemic was that it was used to track for Covid. It wasn't the PCR testing or the lateral flow tests that drove UK lockdowns, it was through sewage,' Claire states.
'I was involved in this area because the government was tracking sewage manually. It was really intensive, expensive and logistically a nightmare, so they were looking out for innovation within universities and private industry. At the time, technology was being retrofitted to the problem as opposed to being problem-led and I saw there was definitely a better solution for this,' she adds.
At this point, Claire met Jay Bullen, co-founder at Untap, who had done his PhD in water tech and had previously looked into pharmaceutical detection in water.
'We started talking and realised that bringing data analytics directly to communities on their community health could really help them in real-time. And that's how Untap was born.'
From the start, Untap could rely on well-known principles and processes in biochemistry. However, their goal to continuously monitor wastewater to detect viruses was an innovative approach: unlike the typical PCR workflow, which requires numerous samples to be used at once, Untap requires just one sample, taken many times over.
'We had a problem to solve, but the solution for our industry wasn't there yet. So we said, let's use a proven method but then change it into something that's automated. Essentially, all the principles have been well demonstrated. But until now, no one has had the reason to commercialise this technology for environmental monitoring, making it continuous and something you can clean out time and time again.'
'Basically, we looked at the conventional workflow for PCR-type wastewater analysis and thought about where the workflow may traditionally involve steps that are quite hard to automate. This is essentially the challenge that we face at Untap.'
Untap hadn’t claimed before but knew that it was essential to get their R&D tax credit claim right. Having received a project-specific grant meant that their first claim would be an RDEC claim, which tends to be significantly more complex.
They spoke to a few traditional advisors, but Claire was surprised and disheartened by the high fees they charged.
'One R&D tax credit advisor quoted 30% for our R&D tax credit claim. I said absolutely not, we've not worked this hard for you to take 30% of the credit.'
It was critical to Untap that they worked with an R&D tax credit advisor that had the expertise and software to manage their claim, as well as fees that were affordable.
'I know a lot of other startup founders. I got a list of 10 companies from them and went through each one. I was looking for a specialist with a rigorous platform that could handle a complex R&D tax credit claim, because of our grant. EmpowerRD came up on top,' Claire explains.
‘I was looking for a specialist with a rigorous platform that could handle a complex R&D tax credit claim, because of our grant. EmpowerRD came up on top’
Working with EmpowerRD
EmpowerRD provided Untap with a platform that worked for them. They were able to file their claim promptly, effectively, and with complete transparency.
‘It was our first time making a claim and we weren’t entirely sure what to include and what not to include. The platform interface was modern and easy to use, and it was great to have the in-platform prompts and feedback throughout’
The fact that Untap had a grant meant that the percentage of each eligible cost was confusing. Being able to rely on their Client Success Manager to help out was vital.
‘The RDEC scheme is more complex, especially when you have a grant. It was great to have reassurance and help from the EmpowerRD team. Our Client Service Manager was always there to make sure we were maximising our claim.’
Writing the technical narrative can be challenging when you work with complex scientific concepts. Because HMRC’s inspectors are not scientists, the report must communicate the complexity of the challenge, while also being concise and clear. EmpowerRD’s technical writers need to take complex scientific or technological information and turn it into a compelling but digestible narrative that inspectors will understand.
‘The work that we do is scientific, niche and often difficult to understand. The way the technical team dissected the information we provided and prepared the document was interesting. It really shows they know what they’re doing.’
Working with EmpowerRD ensured Untap’s first claim was as straightforward and collaborative as possible and the credit they’ve received through the scheme has helped them to continue to move the business and technology forward.