Digital domination at University’s Business Plan competition
March 18, 2019 | Bronte Reilly
Digital businesses swept the board in the University’s 2019 Business Plan competition, winning both award categories and the special Limehouse Award.
Organised by Spark, the University’s business start-up service, the annual Business Plan competition is open to students and graduates, with a prize fund of £8,000 sponsored by University alumni. This year saw over 100 entries across the two categories: Pre-Trading and Trading up to 24 months. A further special award of £1,000 is sponsored by Nick Howard, MD of film agency Limehouse, who won the Business Plan competition in 2008.
“This was the toughest year by far to judge – the entries were truly exceptional,” says Kairen Skelley, Spark’s Head of Business Start-Up. “It was hard enough trying to whittle entries to a shortlist, and it took us two full days to decide on the winners.”
She added: “We’re always blown away by both the business ideas and the work ethic of the students and graduates who come through Spark’s doors. These entrepreneurs are the next generation of business innovators, influencers and disruptors. We’re incredibly proud to work with them.”
First Prize in the Trading category was won by first year Economics student and Enterprise Scholar, Timur Gok (19), for his IT networking business Sneaker Space, which he was running as a hobby before starting university. Timur uses his servers to power automated software which snaps up limited edition trainers and clothing from major brands such as Nike and Adidas as soon as they are released, selling them on to retailers. Not content with his £100k turnover last year, he’s spotted that there’s even more value in selling bespoke servers to industry and will use his £2,000 prize to help develop this side of the business.
Timur says: “The Enterprise Scholarships at Leeds were one of the reasons I chose to study here and Spark’s support has been invaluable. It’s not just about the money – which is great – but it’s also the whole package of support provided; having the network of professional advisers to advise and guide me to set things up properly and understand the financial side the business has made such a big difference.”
First prize in the Pre-Trading category was won by 5th year Dental Surgery student, Steven Riddle (24) for his business venture, Meedu. Meedu is an online educational platform which allows students and teachers to source the best, most relevant educational resources for their subject area. Borne out of his own frustration with finding the best supplementary educational resources, Steven says the £2,000 cash prize will help him refine his website to ensure the best functionality and usability ahead of his planned launch in April.
He says: I’ve been lucky enough to win Proof of Concept funding and an Enterprise Scholarship, and now winning the Business Plan competition is fantastic validation of my business venture. I attended Sparks’ Entrepreneurs’ Bootcamp last year and have learned so much in a short space of time, and that has most definitely refined and accelerated my plans. I’m really grateful for Spark’s support.”
The Limehouse Award of £1,000 was awarded to Leeds product design graduate Owen Williams (26) and his business partner Raj Parmar (27), a doctor at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary, for their pre-trading venture, Brix. Underpinned by open banking, a government initiative that enables banking data to be shared with user consent, the Brix app helps 16-34-year-olds to save for a deposit and calculate affordability to help buy their first home.
Raj said: “Brix helps younger people prepare for financial responsibility, because the transition from being students living off loans to suddenly managing a job and finances in the real world, can be tough. Having to pitch our idea to the judging panel really helped to refine our thinking, and luckily two of the judges already worked in the financial industry, so they saw its high growth potential straight away.”
Nick Howard, Limehouse’s MD explained why he chose Brix for the Award, saying: “Brix is a business idea that has absolutely nailed the proposition for its target millennial demographic. I was incredibly impressed with how well it had been thought through and presented.”
Alongside Kairen Skelley and Brian Baillie from Spark, the judging panel comprised Andy King from Santander; Jonathan Craig, from the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund and Nick Howard, from Limehouse.
The winners were presented with their trophies at an Awards lunch on 07 March, attended by shortlisted entrants and members of Spark’s professional services network who work with Spark students and graduates as mentors and advisers.
The full list of category winners
Trading (up to 24 months)
1st prize of £2,000: Timur Gok (Year 1, Economics) – Sneaker Space
2nd prize of £1250: Zach Pinfold (Product Design graduate, 2016) – Sodada, probiotic-rich fermented soft drinks
3rd prize of £750: Millie Smith (Year 3, fashion design) – Millie Jane e-commerce fashion label
1st prize of £2,000: Steven Riddle (Year 5 Dental Surgery) – Meedu
2nd prize of £1250: Youssef Elsated (Year 3, Mechanical Engineering) – Reloop. AI-supported software to reduce and reuse waste in the construction industry
3rd prize of £750: Matthew Wheeler and Samuel Taylor (Year 4, Graphic and Communication Design) – Madeby design studio
Limehouse Award (£1,000): Owen Williams (Product Design, 2013) and Dr Rajeeve Parmar – Brix