Double winners for University of Leeds enterprise award

The annual Sir Peter Thompson Enterprise Award for student and graduate entrepreneurs at the University has two winners this year for only the second time in its history.

The prizes were awarded to Tom Griffiths of NBT Music Ltd, a ‘one stop shop’ for aspiring musicians, and to Natasha Whiddon of MAP happy Ltd, which produces maps and guides for new students, at the Sir Peter Thompson Enterprise Award Dinner at the University on 31 May.

“The winners are chosen for their demonstration of entrepreneurial promise and their potential impact on the UK's economic, social or cultural prosperity,” says Leeds alumnus and serial entrepreneur, Sir Peter Thompson.

NBT Music Ltd is the brainchild of Leeds graduate Tom Griffiths. A musician since childhood, Tom organised his first music event at the age of 16 which gave him an insight into the logistical and technical side of the industry. Combining his Faculty of Engineering degree in Music, Multimedia and Electronics with managing his friends’ band, Tom spotted a gap in the market for a company which would not only act as a record label to record and produce music but also manage, promote and advise the artists.

“From an informal start in 2010 helping out friends in Leeds, I learnt about the nuts and bolts of running a business after approaching the Spark team at the University’s Careers Service in 2011,” says Tom. “They made sure I had the structure right and I wouldn’t be here now without their advice and guidance.” Tom and his four staff are now based in business incubation space in Leeds which provides ideal facilities for the company to flourish.

His £5,000 award will be used to promote one of MBT’s up and coming artists, singer songwriter Phoebe Katis, whose MBT-created YouTube channel received 12,000 views in two weeks. “We’ve already generated interest using social media networks and will continue to work hard to promote Phoebe and all our artists,” says Tom. “The past two years have been a massive learning curve but I know that NBT Music can make a difference and bring back the passion and fun to the music industry.”

Natasha Whiddon of MAP happy Ltd has devised a credit card-sized guide to Leeds for students new to the city. Issued annually in University welcome packs, the guide combines a map of the city with useful information for freshers finding their way in a new environment. The guide’s production is funded by advertising from targeted local businesses. “I want first year students to have all the information they need from day one, such as the best places to eat, drink and visit as well as useful information such as how to travel and where the Student Medical Practice is,” says Natasha. “The better-informed they are, the easier it is to settle into university life.”

Graduating in Law in 2007, Natasha approached Spark after completing her two-year training contract at Hammonds LLP and spending some time travelling abroad. “I had the idea for the business but needed help to make it a reality,” she says. “Spark made me believe that I could follow my dreams of becoming a successful entrepreneur”.

Natasha will use her £5,000 award to upgrade computer equipment and purchase new software, making production of the guides easier. “MAP happy can be a sustainable business by expanding into other university cities but it’s a time-consuming process - I want to get to know the area first, carry out student research and approach potential advertisers in each area,” she says. “There are competitors out there but my approach is different as it’s better-researched and distributed through official channels.”

Spark Business Adviser, Kairen Skelley, says: “It never ceases to amaze me the quality of the businesses coming through Spark every year. We have seen at least double the amount of student and graduate entrepreneurs coming in to see Spark over the last few years and we are getting busier and busier as time goes on. Bright and dynamic go-getters like Natasha and Tom just go to show that business start-up really is a career choice that is at least the equal of any other in its rewards, perhaps even more so when we see fantastic opportunities like the one offered by Sir Peter.”

Sir Peter Thompson says: “With so many enterprising businesses coming from the University of Leeds, it was harder than ever to choose winners, hence the double award. Tom has already made great progress in his business venture and the potential and drive is there to take it much further. Natasha’s business could be rolled out across the country and she has the determination to make it happen. They are worthy winners.”

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