StartUp Sussex enterprise competition culminates in pitch to judges and award ceremony

StartUp Sussex, the annual enterprise competition run by the University of Sussex, reached its climax last night with the announcement of the three winning teams who will receive grants to help develop their businesses.

The winners were revealed last night at an award ceremony held in the University’s Attenborough Centre Creativity Zone and attended by members of the local business community, academic dignitaries and fellow students.

The teams presented their business plans in a pitch last week to the StartUp Sussex judges, a ‘Dragons’ Den’-style panel consisting of investors, entrepreneurs and representatives from the University. The panel were extremely impressed with the high standard of the pitches, and after much deliberation elected to award a joint first prize to two of the candidates, who will each receive a development grant of £7,500 for their business:

Roxanna Bayram, an MSc Social Psychology graduate, won joint first prize for her idea, iStop Smoking, a mobile app to help users quit smoking. She intends to use the money for app development, testing and marketing the product.

Shahid Mahmood, a 2nd year MEng Electrical & Electronic Engineering student, and Donghao Liao, a 3rd year Business and Human Resource Management undergraduate, won joint first prize for their business, German Motor Specialist, an online luxury car showroom for international students. They plan to use the money for marketing, advertising and web development. The business was also the recipient of a £500 market research prize from Marketest.

In third place, Sam Parlett, a 3rd year Human Sciences undergraduate, received a £2,500 grant to develop Authorise, a website collating lessons and courses from different teachers. He hopes to use the money to hire web development support.

In recognition of their hard work, and the commitment they have shown to the StartUp Sussex programme, the three remaining finalists will continue to be supported by the Sussex Innovation Centre as they look to secure funding to set up their businesses. They are:

  • Naomi Dixon (2nd year BA Anthropology & International Development) and Myrto Lalacos (3rd year BSc Psychology): The Network, a web recruitment platform helping local graduate employers to connect with students.
  • Jolanta Rusecka (MSc IT with Business & Management) and her business partner Kirk Lee: ICME, a software product for goal setting and personal development among employees.
  • Diana Jakovele (3rd year BSc Economics & Management) and Julia Spiridinova (4th year BSc Business): MarketBrilliance, an innovation portal allowing companies to crowdsource product ideas.

StartUp Sussex relaunched in an all-new format for this academic year, with the University’s Careers and Employability Centre and business mentors from the Sussex Innovation Centre teaming up to deliver a series of workshops for over 50 students and recent graduates during the Autumn semester.

Over eight weeks the candidates learned how to evaluate business opportunities, perform market research and understand their customers, and the basics of finance and operational budgeting, creating a functional business model from an initial idea.

In December, 14 teams submitted their ideas, of whom the six finalists were selected to progress to the second phase of the competition. The six teams began an intensive eight-week programme based at the Sussex Innovation Centre, helping them to shape a business plan.

Roxanna Bayram, StartUp Sussex 2014 Winner, said: “It’s so exciting to receive this award, and it’s been an inspiring evening – now I just can’t wait to get started with my business! I want to thank the Innovation Centre team for the support they’ve given all of us; it’s amazing to have such a great resource here on campus.”

Shahid Mahmood, StartUp Sussex 2014 Winner, said: “It was really unexpected and a great feeling to win, but it wasn’t just about the prize. Donghao and I both feel that all of the experience we’ve gained and skills we’ve learned during the programme have been even more valuable than the money.”

Linda Buckham, Director of the Careers and Employability Centre and StartUp Sussex Judging Panellist, said: “All of the judges were so impressed with the level of insight this year’s finalists showed, which provoked a real debate over who should win. We eventually decided that it was only fair to split first and second prizes between Shahid and Donghao, and Roxanna, as there was just so little to call between them.”

Mike Herd, Executive Director of the Sussex Innovation Centre and StartUp Sussex Judging Panellist, said: “I have been involved in judging student enterprise competitions for the past ten years, and I can honestly say that this year’s finalists were some of the strongest that I have ever seen. It’s a real vindication of the change of format for this year’s competition, which has helped these candidates to thoroughly develop their initial ideas and to verify a strong business opportunity.”