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Digital dynamism dominates University’s Business Plan Competition

 March 24, 2017 | Simon Jenkins


Online business ventures have, for the first time, won both the Trading and Pre-Trading categories in the University of Leeds Business Plan Competition for students and graduates.

Organised by Spark, the University’s business start-up service, the prestigious annual competition shares a prize fund of at least £8,000 across the two categories (Pre-trading and Trading up to 24 months), with the winning entries awarded a cash prize of £2,000 each.

First prize in the Pre-Trading category was won by International Business & Economics graduate Pontus Ekhem (25) and Product Design graduate Dan Bennett (24) for their business Promojo, an advertising platform that enables students to earn money by engaging with and giving feedback to adverts in their spare time.  The friends will launch the Promojo app to Leeds students in the summer, with a phased roll-out to Manchester, Nottingham and Bristol later this year. A national launch is planned for 2018.

Says Dan: “Online adverts are often intrusive and an annoyance, but Promojo incentivises users to watch ads of products and brands they’re interested in at their convenience, effectively turning wasted time into paid time.  It works for advertisers too as they reach relevant audience demographics and gain valuable data through the feedback questions.”

Pontus and Dan lost touch after graduating in 2014 but met by chance in 2016 and started discussing ideas for apps they could develop together. Once they’d decided on Promojo, Pontus enrolled on a coding course and they developed their idea around their full-time jobs. Convinced that there was a significant opportunity, both men resigned from their jobs to concentrate on Promojo full time. They moved back to Leeds, where they knew their target student market well, and where they knew they’d be able to fully access Spark’s support.

Says Pontus: “Spark’s been a brilliant sounding board, and the advisory support is fantastic – we’ve been put in touch with experts who know the industry well, and we’ve also been given incubator space. The Business Plan prize will help pay for our launch costs and we’re already in talks with marketing agencies who want to use the platform. This is our year, and we’re really excited!”

First prize in the Trading category was won by Nigerian graduate Olubusayo Longe (27). Olubasayo completed his Master’s degree in Engineering, Technology and Business Management in 2015 and started trading the same year with his business, Form+.

The business allows users to create online forms to collect data and use their own cloud storage (such as Google Drive and Dropbox) to receive and store responses. Competitor solution providers often store clients’ collected data on their servers, forcing clients to keep paying subscription fees to access their data.   Form+ already has over 1000 clients, the largest proportion from the USA, spread across universities and high schools, SMEs and non-profit organisations.  “Form+ is really so simple to use, you only pay for what you need, so it’s really cost-effective,” Olubusayo says.

“Spark has been instrumental in helping me develop the business, setting up in the UK while on a visa, giving me incubator space and helping me go to conferences where I made incredibly useful contacts. I’m working on the business full time: things are moving really fast now, and I’ve been setting up contractors in Poland. I want to grow as fast as I can and see how far I can take it.  I love it! I always knew I wanted to run my own business and  I think Form+ business model has great potential.”

So good was the standard of entries, the judges decided to make an extra discretionary Management Award of £1,000 to MSc International Business graduate Chris Wilson, for his business Too Good to Go. The environmental social enterprise is dedicated to reducing food waste through a mobile app which allows users to purchase food from restaurants, cafes, bakeries and other stores that would otherwise be thrown away at the end of the day for massively discounted prices. Although only 18 months old, Too Good to Go is now active in six European countries: UK, France, Germany, Denmark, Norway and Switzerland, has grown to over one million users and has diverted over 400,000 meals from landfill.

Andy King, Relationship Director at Santander, a long-standing sponsor of the University of Leeds, was on the judging panel. He said: “The quality of the entries this year was phenomenal across the board. On paper, you can get a good feel for a business, but it’s only when the entrepreneurs present to the judging panel that you realise just how compelling these business opportunities really are. You get to see  their passion for the venture, the business instinct and drive that they have and the amount of the work that’s gone into researching and planning. A lot of these businesses are scalable and you only have to look at some of the successes coming out of the SPARK stable to really appreciate the quality of the applicants. It’s both fascinating and remarkable to watch these businesses evolve and mature.

“The Santander Universities division supports entrepreneurs and SMEs through a range of initiatives and awards and the University of Leeds is a flagship institution for us. It’s a real privilege to continue to be involved with the University and in particular SPARK and the amazing young people it continues to support.”

Kairen Skelley, Head of Spark Business Start-Up, said: “Enterprise isn’t an ‘add-on’ at Leeds – there’s a deep commitment to helping students and graduate entrepreneurs to recognise enterprise as a genuine career option and to thrive. The sheer talent, ambition and resilience of our entrepreneurs – as well as their innovative approaches to breaking into sometimes highly competitive markets – deserves the best support available, and we’re extremely proud to be able to deliver that.”

Digital dynamism dominates University’s Business Plan Competition