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Kombucha business wins University’s top enterprise award

 May 22, 2019 | Bronte Reilly

A business producing kombucha, a probiotic-rich soft drink, has won the University of Leeds’ most prestigious prize – the £5,000 Sir Peter Thompson Enterprise Award, sponsored by Michael Collins of Goldcrest Land plc and organised by the University’s business start-up service, Spark.

Zach Pinfold, 27, a Master’s graduate in Product Design, spotted the gap in the UK market for an alternative to sugary soft drinks for those who prefer not to drink alcohol.

Kombucha is a fermented soft drink that uses tea as a key ingredient. It is rich in probiotics, has a depth of flavour and is naturally slightly sweet. Kombucha is popular in the US and Australia, and although you can find it in London, it’s not readily available across the UK.

Zach started making his kombucha in December 2017, making his first sale at the Christmas Farmers’ Market in his home town of Holmfirth, West Yorkshire. Just eighteen months later, his company, Sodada, has a product range that is stocked in 60 outlets, including independent cafes, health food shops, gym and fitness clubs, and even a Michelin-starred restaurant in Ilkley.

Zach says “We’ve infused our products with locally sourced flavours to give it more bite – a tart rhubarb, a fiery ginger and a delicate elderflower, and we’re about to launch two new flavours shortly, including one that’s hops-infused to give the flavour of beer.”

In 2018, Sodada won a Great Taste Award from the Guild of Fine Food, described as the ‘Oscars of the food and drink world’, which allows him to display a Great Taste logo on his products.

Sodada is very much a family business, with the microbrewery built in an outhouse at his parents’ house and his whole family involved in helping to run the business and supporting his sustainability aspirations.

Zach’s business model is structured to encourage customers to recycle bottles, which he then buys back from stockists. He says: “Around fifty per cent of our bottles are recycled now as more and more people are embracing the ethics of recycling. It’s good for the environment, our stockist like it because it brings customers back to the shops, and it also saves us money too – so everyone wins!

“Being chosen for the Sir Peter Thomson Award by an entrepreneur like Michael Collins, who has so much business acumen, gives me enormous confidence. The £5k prize is amazing too, as it will help enormously with my growth plans.”

To date, Zach has won over £10,000 in prizes through Spark, generously funded by University alumni and long-term partner Santander, allowing him to move away from leasing large pieces of equipment such as filtering and bottle capping machines, fridges and kegs.

Michael Collins, who sponsors the Sir Peter Thompson Award, said:  “The Assessment Day produced a very strong shortlist with excellent presentations.  Zach’s presentation and business plan were outstanding and he was the clear winner. He is very clear on how he will grow his business – which is already successful; he is going to grow it by self-funding and is committed to building a sustainable business and has not made the strategic error of focusing on an Exit, he is focusing instead on sustainability.”

Mr Collins also made a special award of £1,000 to graduates Kyle Withington and Callum Isaac for their video animation and design company, Knotwork Ltd.

Callum (22) graduated in 2018 with a degree in Film, Photography and Media, and Kyle (23) graduated with a Master’s degree in Film, Photography and Media in 2017.  The duo met through a student radio show they produced, then honed their skills further – Kyle as a freelance animator and Callum producing programme content for the Made in Leeds channel through his role as Station Manager at Leeds Student Television (LSTV).

Knotwork launched in November 2018, winning their first contract on day one and already have a 95 per cent referral and repeat business rate from their clients across the UK, the Netherlands and the Isle of Man.

Says Callum: “We are resolute that Knotwork will only work for clients whose ethos matches our own – to make a positive difference in the world – whether that’s a charitable cause or an organisation that wants to inform, make a positive change or entertain. At first it was hard to turn work down, but we now have a fantastic client base who are a great fit for our ethos.”

Kyle adds: “We first met Michael shortly after launching the company, and the advice he gave us then has helped us make some big decisions with the business which we feel have directly informed its success so far.  It has been fantastic to know that half a year later, Michael clearly believes in the direction we’re taking Knotwork, and its central ethos.  It has been both a surprise and an honour to receive a special award for our work and we’re very excited about the future.

The duo have also recently launched the Knotwork Network, which allows them to share their connections and work opportunities with a pool of talented student and graduate freelancers who are just starting out in their creative careers, “to help them out in the same way that we were supported when we first started out,” says Kyle.

Commenting on Knotwork, Mr Collins said: “I have met with the guys at Knotwork a couple of times and I am very impressed with how their business is progressing. I awarded them a special prize because of their commitment to only work with companies ‘who do good’ and I think that should be encouraged. While I was very impressed with Knotwork’s passion to do good, they are commercial enough not to focus on the social sector but also seek to work with private companies who meet their high ethical standards and that is very impressive.”

He added: “The work Leeds is doing with its young entrepreneurs must be encouraged because it’s an investment in future success and I am constantly surprised that as an ‘old entrepreneur’ I am learning from these younger entrepreneurs – and that is very satisfying!”

Kombucha business wins University’s top enterprise award