Diversity & Inclusion

Women in IP case study

Dr Fanya Ismail – CEO, Director and Co-founder of SGMA

Dr Fanya Ismail, Chief Executive Officer, Director, and Co-founder of Sol Gel Materials and Applications (SGMA) Limited, has led an interesting and impactful life. She was born in the Kurdistan region in northern Iraq and moved to the UK in the 1990s following her first degree. After spending several years learning English, Fanya obtained a Masters degree from the University of Manchester before being awarded a Royal Society of Chemistry PhD scholarship in 2000. Fanya obtained her doctorate from the University of Manchester in 2003 and embarked on a career in academia, working as a researcher at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST) and as a lecturer for Kingston University.

Following the birth of her twins in 2008, Dr Ismail found the demands of academia conflicted with her desire to care for her three children. So, she paused her academic career and spent the next five years working as a consultant in the legal sector.   However, she never lost her passion for science and it was during this period that Fanya designed the molecules that would form the basis of her future company using a pen and paper at her kitchen table. She was awarded an Innovate UK grant in 2014 and after several years away from science, rented laboratory space to develop her ideas.

Fanya founded SGMA in 2017 with the aim of creating sustainable and plastic-free paper packaging using sol-gel technology. Her work was recognised with an Innovate UK ‘Women in Innovation’ award in 2019.

SGMA has grown rapidly and moved from the small industrial unit in Gillingham which first housed its laboratory and office, to a site in Kent Science Park in Sittingbourne. Its initial focus was on providing a waterproof barrier to replace the plastic liner in single-use disposable coffee cups to make them fully recyclable, compostable and biodegradable. Never short of ideas, SGMA’s goal is to apply its technology to a wide range of areas including food and drink, textiles and construction.

As the business has grown, SGMA has filed an increasing number of patent applications, all of which list Fanya as an inventor. Securing patent protection for her inventions gives SGMA’s investors confidence that the business is protected as it expands, which was key in attracting investment in its early stages. The company’s diverse portfolio of patent applications now includes four international patent families.

Fanya has spoken passionately about the challenges she faced on her journey and how this has influenced her belief that women in science and technology should be supported so that they can achieve their full potential. One of Fanya’s strong beliefs is that women researchers should be given the opportunity to work more flexibly. In her time as a post-doctoral researcher, Fanya was expected to attend the premises every day which became untenable alongside looking after her three young children and could have caused her to leave science altogether. Fanya has also spoken of how Thomas Edison inspired her to view failure as a positive.

Edison famously said:

I have not failed 700 times. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.

This is an approach that Dr Ismail has adopted throughout her career.

AA Thornton have been assisting Fanya since shortly after SGMA was founded by providing strategic advice on a range of intellectual property matters. Marianne Privett, a partner at AA Thornton, comments “it was clear from the beginning how much potential SGMA’s technology has and it’s a privilege to support SGMA as it grows.”

Date published: 26 April 2023

Alternative Diversity & Inclusion

Shopping Basket

No products in the cart.

Skip to content