Winners announced in 2020 StartUp Sussex competition

A new alternative to plastic film packaging and an interactive revision app powered by artificial intelligence won their young creators prizes worth £10,000 each at last week's StartUp Sussex awards. 

The annual enterprise programme, delivered by Sussex Innovation for students and recent graduates from the University of Sussex, reached its climax as the recipients of prizes worth a total of £57,000 were announced. Due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the traditional live awards ceremony was cancelled in favour of a more intimate virtual celebration with the finalists, mentors and judges on Friday 27th March. 

The 2020 StartUp Sussex winner is MSc Experimental Psychology student James Bowyer. His business, Reviso.ai, brings the dearly-missed library study session online through gamification and AI. It enables students to discuss reading materials, brainstorm, plan essay points with supporting research and enjoy interactive revision.

The Social Impact Prize is awarded each year to the enterprise with the most potential to bring about positive social change. The 2020 winner is BSc Product Design graduate Lucy Hughes, whose invention Marinatex provides a planet-conscious alternative to plastic film for the packaging industry, fabricated from fishing waste products.

As well as earning the title of University of Sussex Entrepreneurs of the Year, the winners received a £10,000 prize consisting of a cash award from the programme sponsors and ongoing membership, consultancy and marketing from Sussex Innovation.  

"I'm incredibly thankful to the team, the University and Sussex Innovation," said James Bowyer, founder of Reviso.ai, "From the very first session of hearing so many inspiring new ideas, to the deeper connections and comradeship that grew over time, I loved every minute of StartUp Sussex. The funding will help us to develop new bespoke essay and research features, as well as paying for support with areas like marketing."

"I'm delighted to have been awarded the Social Impact Prize," said Lucy Hughes, founder of Marinatex. "The path ahead for a start-up like Marinatex can sometimes seem daunting, but the programme has given me the skills and confidence to gain momentum. I'm really grateful for all the support I've received so far, and I'm looking forward to becoming a member of Sussex Innovation."

The winners emerged victorious from an initial pool of nearly 100 students, who began the programme all the way back in October. The 11 finalists each presented their business plans in a live video pitch last week to the StartUp Sussex judges, a 'Dragons' Den'-style panel consisting of local investors, entrepreneurs and representatives from the University. 

"I want to commend all of this year's finalists for doing such an excellent job with their business plans under challenging circumstances," said Simon Chuter, Student Enterprise Manager at Sussex Innovation. "We have two worthy winners in James and Lucy, but the standard across the board was exceptionally high. I've had the pleasure of running this program for the last 5 years and it never fails to amaze me, the talent that keeps on coming through the door. I wish them all every success as they move forwards with their enterprises." 

"I've enjoyed being on the StartUp Sussex judging panel for a few years now," said Nigel Lambe, Chief Executive of Sussex Innovation. "It's always inspiring to see the diversity and creativity on show in all of the pitches, and a tough decision when we have to pick the winners. Ultimately, James and Lucy were both able to demonstrate a very clear problem that their businesses are helping to solve, and made a very convincing commercial case for how they plan to go about it. The depth of talent this year was extraordinary and I am quite sure most of finalists will go on to grow successful businesses."

As well as one-to-one mentoring with the Sussex Innovation support team, the finalists were advised by 2018 winner Molly Masters, received presentation skills coaching from improv troupe The Maydays, and financial guidance and a £1000 bursary from Santander Universities UK. The Social Impact Prize is funded by a generous private donation from a Sussex alumnus.

In a surprise announcement, Santander Universities provided an additional £15,000 of funding on top of its sponsorship of the finalists and StartUp Sussex winners, with a £3,000 cash award to first, second and third place in StartUp Sussex, covering the founders' living costs during their first year of operation. A fourth-place prize worth £6,000 was also offered for one more deserving finalist. 

Previous StartUp Sussex winners have included Books That Matter, a literature subscription box that was named Enterprise Nation’s female start-up of the year, and TRIM-it, a mobile barber service that has received £225,000 of seed investment and featured on BBC Business. 

The other 2020 winners:

  • In second place in StartUp Sussex 2020, Rebecca Fitzgerald (BA Media Practice) received an £8,000 prize for her product, SaviourSkin – a plant-based, skin positive, minimally formulated skincare range for millennial and gen-z consumers suffering with sensitive skin and skin complaints. 
  • In third place, Oscar Sanz (BSc Computer Science) and Ola Oladapo (BEng Mechanical Engineering) received a £6,000 prize for their enterprise, Dash, which aims to be the first commission-free ridesharing platform in Europe. 
  • In fourth place, William Roberts (BSc Business and Management), Thomas Gray (BSc International Business with Finance) and James Howes (BSc International Business) received a £6,000 prize for their brand, West Pier Drinks. They plan to challenge the rum industry with a bold local brand of flavoured rum with a sustainable focus.
  • In second place in the Social Impact Prize 2020, Yoko Inagaki (MA Globalisation, Business and Development) received an £8,000 prize for her social enterprise, Manasa Mora. She intends to provide the first reliable laundry facility in Madagascar, helping to reduce serious health threats such as malaria and save time for working mothers.