Winners announced in annual student enterprise competition

A new product that could dramatically lower the cost and increase the speed of testing for meningitis and sepsis, with potentially huge implications for healthcare delivery in the developing world, won its young founders a Social Impact Prize worth £10,000 at last night'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 £43,000 were announced.

The 2019 StartUp Sussex winner is English Literature PhD graduate Lana Harper. Her business, Write Now, sets out to train students and young professionals in the fundamentals of good written communication, via a mobile app consisting of a series of minigames.

Lana Harper Write Now

Lana Harper, Write Now

The Social Impact Prize is awarded each year to the enterprise with the most potential to bring about positive social change. The 2019 winners were Mustafa Khraishi, a BSc Biology graduate, and his co-founder Fergus Morris of Adaptive Diagnostics. They will use their winnings to patent protect their diagnostic 'point of care' test, as well as working with Sussex Innovation’s advisors to build a sustainable model around the product.

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 and ongoing membership, consultancy and marketing from Sussex Innovation.

"I don’t feel like my feet have touched the ground yet!" said Lana Harper, founder of Write Now. "I was hoping to win, but I wasn't expecting to, so it's just the most amazing feeling. The best thing I've taken away from this experience is learning to get out of my comfort zone, talk to people and sell myself and my idea. I feel very lucky to be here – I'm really fond of everyone else who’s been on the programme with me, and grateful to the StartUp Sussex team, so it's great to have a chance to celebrate with everybody."

"It feels very satisfying to be able to get the ball rolling – we finally have the funds to patent our technology!" said Mustafa Khraishi, and Fergus Morris, co-founders of Adaptive Diagnostics. "StartUp Sussex was a really great experience, with brilliant support from the Sussex Innovation team and strong competition from the other finalists’ ideas, so it feels good to be standing here now as winners."

Adaptive Diagnostics Mustafa Khraishi and Fergus Morris

Mustafa Khraishi and Fergus Morris, Adaptive Diagnostics

The winners were revealed at an awards ceremony held at the Sussex Innovation Centre and attended by members of the local business community, University staff and students, and the Mayor of Brighton and Hove. They emerged victorious from an initial pool of more than 80 students, who began the programme all the way back in October.

The 10 finalists each presented their business plans in a pitch earlier this week to the StartUp Sussex judges, a Dragons' Den-style panel consisting of local investors, entrepreneurs and representatives from the University.

"Lana is a true entrepreneur in every sense, and a worthy winner of this year's StartUp Sussex title," said Simon Chuter, Student Enterprise Manager at Sussex Innovation. "The judges were impressed with the rigour she brought to her market research, which was backed up with exceptional presentation skills. In fact, her final pitch may well have been the strongest I've seen in the five years I've been involved in StartUp Sussex."

"I was privileged to sit on the judging panel for both StartUp Sussex and the Social Impact Prize this year," said Mike Herd, Executive Director of Sussex. "We saw several very strong ideas and pitches, but Adaptive Diagnostics stood out because of the scale of the impact it could have. It's going to involve a lot of work getting it to market, but Mustafa and Fergus are realistic about the time scales and investment involved, and we feel well-placed to support them on their journey.

"I'd like to thank our experienced support team, who work hard to deliver the programme and mentor the finalists through the process each year. We hope that everyone involved will carry on developing their ideas and work with us again in the future."

As well as one-to-one mentoring with the Sussex Innovation support team, the finalists were advised by last year's winner Molly Masters, received presentation skills coaching from improv troupe The Maydays, and financial guidance and a £500 bursary from Santander Universities. The Social Impact Prize is funded by a generous private donation from a Sussex alumnus.

In a surprise announcement, the judges also awarded an unplanned 'One to Watch' award worth £1,000 to a young entrepreneur with promise.

StartUp Sussex winners 2019

(L-R) Lana Harper, Mark Rynston, Austin Okolo, Fergus Morris, Mustafa Khraishi, Carolina Avellaneda Cadena, Jon McGlashan, Cristobal Matte

The other winners:

  • In second place in StartUp Sussex 2019, Mark Rynston (LLB Law w/ Business) received an £8,000 prize for his idea, TheLawMarketplace.com. His platform will act as a comparison site for solicitors and law practices, focusing on the B2C market.
  • In third place, Cristobal Matte (MSc Strategic Innovation Management) received a £6,000 prize for his enterprise, Airkeep. His platform helps arrange peer-to-peer storage between travellers and hosts, 'like AirBnB for luggage'.
  • The 'One to Watch' award went to Austin Okolo (FDN Biosciences). Austin received a £1,000 prize for his business Born to Stand Out, a designer clothing and lifestyle brand.
  • In second place in the Social Impact Prize 2019, Jon McGlashan (MSc Project Management) and Carolina Avellaneda Cadena (MSc Environment Development and Policy) received an £8,000 prize for their enterprise, BubbleLife. They have developed an ethical bath and shower brand with products entirely free of plastic packaging.

Simon Chuter and Darren Tenkorang StartUp Sussex 2019

Simon Chuter, Student Enterprise Manager, interviews 2016 winner Darren Tenkorang

Where are they now? Previous winners’ stories since StartUp Sussex:

  • 2018 winner Molly Masters launched her empowering literature subscription box service Books That Matter in September last year. The business already has more than 700 recurring monthly subscribers, and has been featured by the likes of Forbes, The Huffington Post and The Evening Standard.
  • 2018 runner-up Julian Bourne has also won the People’s Choice Award in the national Pitch@Palace enterprise competition, and Startup of the Year at the Sussex Business Awards with his restaurant deals chatbot Waffle. The business was recently accepted onto the prestigious TechStars accelerator programme in Berlin and has received several rounds of investment to date.
  • 2016 winner Darren Tenkorang has received seed investment of £225,000 for his mobile barber business Trim-It, which was recently the subject of a BBC News Stories feature charting his entrepreneurial journey.
  • 2015 runner-up Nick Musto has taken his event listings app Native to 17 cities and 300,000 users in the UK, securing £175,000 in seed investment and a partnership with BBC Radio 1 along the way.

More captioned photographs from the awards ceremony can be found here. Video pitches from all of the finalists can be found here.