Student businesses ventures share £10k of prizes

Eight innovative and ambitious business have shared prizes in the 2016 University of Leeds Business Plan Competition.

l-r:  Rowena Madar and Satthaporn Barnes;  Owen Seabrook; Aiping Xu; Jade Topper;  Jacob James;  Georgina Grant-Muller; Mercedes Hernandez-Gomez and Rocio Gaudioso-Pedraza


Organised by Spark, the University’s business start-up service, the annual competition awards prizes in two main categories: Pre-trading and Trading up to 24 months. The winners in each category receive a cash prize of £2,000. A further prize of £1,000 for the best digital business idea has this year been sponsored by Santander.

Kairen Skelley, Head of Spark Business Start-Up, said: “I truly believe we have the most talented and the highest quality entrepreneurs here at Leeds.  Year on year these young men and women are spotting gaps in the market that are producing creative and extremely credible business ideas. Together with the support and mentorship we provide, they have the foundation to deliver scalable and highly profitable businesses. I’m incredibly proud of their attitude and ambition.”

First prize in the Trading Company category was won by Rowena Madar and Satthaporn Barnes for their specialist branding and marketing company, Eat Fish Design.  Their company was founded in November 2015 and is already working on projects for nine client companies in the medical technology sector.

Both women graduated last year with a Master’s degree in Product Design from the University’s School of Mechanical Engineering.  The two friends were part of a team whose 4th year medical product design project won a national student design award and took them to Texas, USA to represent the UK in the international finals. While they didn’t win the final, they were approached by several companies who loved the way that they translated the benefits of complex technical products through simple and beautiful marketing and design materials.

Says Rowena: “We can’t quite believe how fast this has all happened. I don’t think either of us thought we’d be running our own business, but we love it! We jumped in with both feet and hit the ground running and it’s taken off in a way that we could only dream of.

“The Spark team and the Spark services have been amazing, we couldn’t have managed it without their advice and guidance. We’re now based in the University’s business incubator which is the  perfect environment for us, with space to work and think, meeting rooms and all the facilities we could want  – it’s such a far cry from when we first started and were running the business from our homes and the café in the school of Engineering!”

Says Satthaporn: “It’s not just the solid foundations that we’ve had help with either. Spark is helping us with our growth plans too – things like investigating different schemes we could apply to, internships we can use to expand and introducing us to people who can share industry contacts and knowledge.”

First prize in the Pre-Trading Company category was awarded to Aiping Xu, currently studying for a Master’s degree in New Media. On top of her £2,000 prize, Aiping was also selected as winner of Santander’s best digital business venture prize.

Aiping’s company, Lean In Media, will use her experience of working as a movie and documentary buyer in China to provide consultancy to international film producers and distributors looking to sell their programmes to the Chinese market. Using her extensive industry contacts, Aiping will review clients’ programmes and tailor these to pitch to different Chinese customers, offering licensing negotiation support so that her clients can sell their programmes to multiple buyers instead of having to licence them exclusively to a single customer.

Says Aiping: “I’ve only been involved with Spark since October and everyone I’ve met has been encouraging and inspiring. Through the business workshops, mentors and advisers I’ve been given the practical skills and knowledge to make my business idea a reality. With Spark’s help, I’m setting up the company right now as I’ve already got potential clients who want to discuss offers, and will use the business incubator as a trading address.  I’m so grateful to the Spark team and the advisers that they put me in touch with.”

The full list of winners was:


1st – Rowena Madar and Satthaporn Barnes , Eat Fish Design

2nd – Georgina Grant-Muller: AVANTEA LTD -  a luxury loose leaf tea company whose products are ethically sourced and environmentally consciously packaged and come in a wide variety of traditional and adventurous flavours.

Joint 3rd - Jade Topper: Lady Evelyn - a full bridal line of couture accessories, veils, and as of Autumn 2016, a complete collection of gowns for the style savvy bride.

Joint 3rd - Owen Seabrook: Seabrook Media  - a production company that is already making connections with larger companies and institutions, including the BBC.


1st – Aiping Xu: Lean In Media (also winner of the Digital award)

2nd – Jacob James: Intrepid Exposures – an adventure travel photography workshop company running locally sustainable and community orientated travel photography workshops around the world

Joint 3rd - Mark Narvidas:  Archimedes’ Box – a venture which aims to educate young independent thinkers by facilitating an environment of self-motivated learning and discovery.

Joint 3rd - Mercedes Hernandez-Gomez and Rocio Gaudioso-Pedraza: ResearcherSkills -  an online business to provide scientists and science companies from any discipline with a platform to efficiently connect, collaborate and outsource research-related services.

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