Research and knowledge exchange

ECR Dragons' Den

Research meets the 'Dragons' - what's your pitch?

The Sussex ECR Dragons' Den is an opportunity for early career researchers, either as individuals or groups, to bid for research funding and to gain experience in bid-writing and pitching to a non-specialist audience.

This year's final will take place on Thursday 13 June as part of the one-day ECR Symposium at the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts (ACCA). Book your place to attend to the Dragons' Den competition final here.

Meet this year's presenters

Grecia Garcia Garcia (Engineering & Informatics) - Developing and promoting guidelines for producing tactile diagrams

People with visual impairment (VI) are disadvantaged by not having access to the same information as sighted people, particularly to visual information. Further, current guidelines on tactile graphics focus on translating diagrams for people with sight, which produces diagrams that are far from optimal for people with VI. As consequence, this limits their access to information and restricts their chances to continue education.

In a previous project, we created cognitively informed tactile materials that were well-received by teachers and students. To translate our research findings into practice, we need to establish a network of collaborators and partners. Our proposed project focuses on developing this network. We plan to extract guidelines for creating tactile materials from our earlier project, make these guidelines accessible to stakeholders, and conduct a workshop with teachers, exam boards and publishers. During the workshop, we will present our research and invite participants to become collaborators and partners.

Becky Dobson Phillips (Law, Politics and Sociology) - Corruption: From bad apples to bad orchards?

Dr Rebecca Dobson Phillips’ research focuses on corruption, integrity, and public standards, with an emphasis on relationships of power, to explore the foundations of effective, legitimate and just forms of governance.

Her Dragon’s Den pitch draws on her doctoral thesis, which explored conceptualisations of corruption by employing an “ethnographic sensibility” to normative theory development. This work used interviews and textual analysis to investigate how activist groups in the UK understand political corruption and the ways in which it manifests in society. This work clarified some of the discipline’s conceptual blind-spots, including the lack of attention given to the role of power and how societies are unjustly (and corruptly) structured (Dobson Phillips 2024).

An extension of this work would use the same method to explore how these conceptual and theoretical frameworks may be challenged and reshaped in other political and social contexts. Political actors in Bangladesh are identified as a least-likely case for comparison with the UK and are expected to challenge prior conceptual reflections and analysis by exposing Western-derived ideas about corruption to new contexts, situations, and ways of thinking.

Antonio Hinojosa Garcia (Life Sciences) - Cortical circuits underlying simple forms of learning

The brain is the organ that allows us to perceive the environment and learn from it. We know it is composed of different regions and neuron types that connect to each other forming circuits that undergo plasticity changes during learning, but how their activity and connectivity underpin specific forms of learning is unknown. Understanding the circuit mechanism of learning will allow us to improve learning techniques, treat neurological disorders and advance in artificial intelligence in the future.

I aim to understand the circuit mechanisms of the simple forms of learning we undergo as we become familiar with stimuli and as we associate rewards with them using mice as a model. I lead the work to understand the local plasticity changes during these two forms of learning in Leon Lagnado Lab by tracking neuronal activity while mice learn. Now, we know that they cannot only be explained locally but require changes in the connectivity from other areas, and we have the cutting-edge techniques required to start answering this question with the funding offered.

Mohammad Saber Sotoodeh (Psychology) - Rate Me If You Can!

Developmental Coordination Disorder (commonly known as Dyspraxia) is a condition that impairs the ability to produce coordinated movement. Despite its prevalence rate of 6%, Dyspraxia remains one of the less studied disorders. Beyond physical challenges, Dyspraxia can also impact mental health, including self-confidence. Many individuals live undiagnosed with Dyspraxia, facing its associated difficulties without adequate support. The current diagnostic system is inefficient, often costly, and can take up to five years to deliver a diagnosis—a significant delay during crucial developmental stages. "Rate Me If You Can" aims to address these issues by providing an accessible, user-friendly platform based on computer vision technology to facilitate diagnosis for parents, teachers, and clinicians, by rating the children’s motor ability and providing diagnostic information.

This year's Dragons 

Funds of up to £2,000 are available to resource projects and activities which, in line with the Sussex Research with Impact Strategy, support the development of knowledge that challenges conventional wisdom, extending the boundaries of research drawing on technological and intellectual advances.

We will prioritise bids that support the development of external funding applications, either by an individual or by an interdisciplinary group of researchers that identify new and exciting research ideas.

Participants must present in person, not virtually, and must attend the training and peer practice sessions as well as the semi-final and final itself.

Are you up for the challenge? Check out the eligibility criteria and guidance if you'd like to get involved.

This year's application has now closed.

How does it work?

For a chance to present at the Dragons' Den, eligible researchers must submit a research project application and proposal for assessment by our ‘Dragons’.

Fifteen successful applicants will receive training in writing, communicating and pitching, before presenting to the shortlisting panel in the week of 27 May. From this, six finalists will go forward to pitch to the Dragons at the live event on Thursday 13 June.

Finalists will have five minutes to pitch their research ideas a panel of senior academics and experts. After each pitch, the Dragons will have ten minutes to ask questions about the research and proposed activities. They will deliberate after all finalists have presented, before announcing the winners, and the audience will vote online for their People’s Choice Champion.

When submitting an application you must confirm that you have discussed your proposed research with your PI or recruiting manager and received their support.


By participating in the Dragons' Den, you will have the opportunity to:

  • gain valuable training and experience in bid-writing and communicating your ideas
  • raise your professional profile across the University
  • undertake CPD to put towards your ADR and promotion application
  • expand your network with other researchers and engage in a supportive environment
  • receive mentoring or guidance from our Dragons


1st Prize: £2,000

2nd Prize: £1,000

People's Choice Champion, voted by the audience: £1,000

All finalists may be offered guidance or mentoring by one or more Dragons, regardless of the winning pitches.

Need inspiration?

Here's how last year's presenters benefited from taking part.

''The process going through has been really fun. We've made friends with the other presenters and been able to hone on what we want our project to be like, and the training is really helpful. The learning we got will be applied in lots of different situations...''

''I've really enjoyed it. I didn't think I was going to,,, it sounded like a bit horrifying with Dragons Den and but I especially enjoyed meeting other researchers from across the University and hearing about their research and spending two days with them doing the training...''

''It's been surprisingly fun. I didn't think it was going to be fun when I first started, I thought it was going to be really hard and really necessary. Something I wanted to do to get some better skills in trying to focus my research down and present it well, that actually I found the process really enjoyable and it's been really nice getting to know the other people who have been participating in the competition.''

Let's hear what previous participants say about the Dragons' Den

Key Dates

Mon 8 April Open for applications
Tues, 7 May, midnight (extended deadline) Deadline for applications 
Mon 13 May Applicants receive confirmation
Mon 20 May, 9.30am-1pm In-person training
Tues 28 May Final written proposal and slide deadline
Wed 5 June Abstract and title submission deadline
Wed 5 June, 10am-1pm In-person peer practice day for finalists
Thu 13 June Dragons' Den Final

Contact Us


Research Staff Office, Research and Enterprise Services, Level 1, Falmer House, University of Sussex, BN1 9QF

Twitter @SussexResearchr