Digital domination at Business Plan competition

Digital businesses swept the board at our 2019 Business Plan competition.

Competition winners Steven Riddle, Millie Smith, Matthew Wheeler, Rajeeve Parmar, Sam Taylor, Zach Pinfold, Youssef Elsayed and Timur Gok

Business plan competition 2019 March 2019

Organised by Spark, our business start-up service, the annual contest is open to students and graduates, with a prize fund of £8,000 sponsored by alumni.

This year saw more than 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, Managing Director of film agency Limehouse, who won the competition in 2008.

Kairen Skelly, Spark’s Head of Business Start-Up, said: “This was the toughest year by far to judge – the entries were truly exceptional. It was hard enough trying to whittle entries to a shortlist, and it took us two full days to decide on the winners.

“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.”

Timur Gok - Business Plan Competition 2019 March 2019First Prize in the Trading category was won by first year Economics student and Enterprise Scholar, Timur Gok, 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 said: “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 of the business has made such a big difference.”

Second prize in the category went to Zach Pinfold (Product Design graduate, 2016), for his probiotic-rich fermented soft drinks, Sodada, and with Millie Smith (Year 3, Fashion Design) third for her e-commerce fashion label, Millie Jane.

Steven Riddle - Business Plan Competition 2019 March 2019First prize in the Pre-Trading category was won by fifth year Dental Surgery student, Steven Riddle, 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 added: “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 Spark’s 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.”

Second prize in the category went to Youssef Elsayed (Year 3, Mechanical Engineering) for his AI-supported software to reduce and reuse waste in the construction industry (Reloop), with Matthew Wheeler and Samuel Taylor (Year 4, Graphic and Communication Design) third for their design studio, Madeby.

Raj Parmar - Business Plan Competition 2019 March 2019The Limehouse Award of £1,000 was awarded to Leeds product design graduate Owen Williams and his business partner Raj Parmar (pictured above), 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 to 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.

Winners were presented with their trophies during an awards lunch on Thursday 7 March, attended by shortlisted entrants and members of Spark’s professional services network, who work with Spark students and graduates as mentors and advisers.

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