Young farmer cashes in with plan for new UK crop

11 Sep 2014 15:17:09.570

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The University of Nottingham recently held its first business plan competition aimed specifically at postgraduates, boasting a total prize fund of £75,000. The competition was sponsored by Santander Universities, Nottingham CityCare Partnership and Nottingham City Council. The top prize winners included a young farmer introducing a new crop to the UK, a team of Crop Biotechnology graduates detecting foodborne diseases, a university student recruitment company and a team who have developed a solar powered cooker.

The £75,000 Postgraduate Venture Challengewas open to current postgraduate students from across The University of Nottingham plus recent graduates. Over 150 students took part, either as individuals or as a team, with the participants being whittled down to ten finalists to take part in the investment pitch day held on 27 August.

The challenge, run by Nottingham University Business School’s Haydn Green Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, featured a series of workshops in the run up to the pitching final where participants were coached on developing a business plan and how to pitch for investment. The final of the competition saw participants pitching their business ideas to a panel of judges who selected six teams to win the top cash prizes to enable them to further progress their business. All ten finalists won paid mentoring.

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£20,000 was provided by Santander Universities with a top prize of £10,000 to be awarded to a business with high growth potential. Stephen Jones took first prize of £10,000 with his business plan for becoming the UK’s only commercial producer of oca tubers. Originating from South America, oca is an edible potato-like tuber which is rapidly growing in popularity in the Western world. Stephen said: “I'm really pleased to be selected to receive such a generous award for my business idea from Santander Universities. The prize money will be used to set up the UK’s first commercial oca crop on my family’s farm in Shropshire and will help me to drive my business development forward at a faster rate than I would have otherwise been able to achieve.”

Santander Universities awarded second prize of £7,000 to Summus, a team of two graduates with masters in Engineering, with an idea for a digital door lock that integrates with a mobile app. Parvez Subhan took home third prize of £3,000 plus an additional £2,000 from the University’s prize fund to develop his phone app which locates Halal restaurants and takeaways.

Simon Bray, Director Santander Universities UK said: “We have been really impressed with the outstanding quality of the business plans and ideas presented during the competition. There is a wealth of talent at The University of Nottingham and at Santander Universities we are proud to be contributing to the development of a new generation of brilliant entrepreneurs who have the potential to become achieve great things not only in Nottinghamshire but also in the UK and abroad.”

The winner of the top prize from The University of Nottingham was team DiagMole, three MSc Crop Biotechnology and Entrepreneurship graduates who took away £8,000 to progress their business idea for a pathogen testing service for food products. Ammar Mussaji of DiagMole said: “We are overwhelmed and extremely honoured to win the University prize for the Postgraduate Venture Challenge. We worked hard, faced stiff competition and challenges throughout and it was a brilliant experience. It’s wonderful that The University of Nottingham will go on to run this contest annually as it is a great opportunity for aspiring and budding entrepreneurs such as us to get some exposure as well as fine tune and pitch our business plan to investors. We will use the prize money to develop our business further which is much needed at this juncture for our R&D to refine our prototypes and create a scalable, repeatable business model.  Winning this competition gives us great confidence and belief in our business plan, encouraging us to work harder and launch our business into the real world. We would like to give our sincere thanks to everyone who has been part of our journey thus far.”

Richard Gott won £5,000 from the University to invest in his gourmet marshmallow company, Flumptious. Gerard Keeley of Vidsy won £4,000 for his idea of video production via crowdsourcing.

The Social Value Award of £5,000 was sponsored by Nottingham CityCare Partnership for the business idea that has the most potential to create social and/or environmental value. This prize went to team Nijo with their innovative idea for solar powered ovens. Nijo are Ayoola MacJay Makinde-Ojo , postgraduate researcher in engineering, Nishanth Yatheendranathan, MBA Entrepreneurship graduate and Dr Eldar Naghiyev, PhD in Sustainable Energy Technologies.

Karen Frankland, Director of Business and Marketing at Nottingham CityCare Partnership said: “The project group Nijo presented a solution that Nottingham CityCare Partnership identified as having the potential of adding social value across a number of their service areas. Adding social value is a key strategic objective for Nottingham CityCare Partnership and the areas identified as possibly benefitting from Nijo’s idea included the very young and low income families right through to the frail elderly. CityCare look forward to offering on-going support to team Nijo.”

Team Mindways won the Trade with India prize provided by Nottingham City Council. They won a seat at the cricket One-day International Series, England vs India at Trent Bridge in Nottingham on 30 August which offered the opportunity to network  with several prominent local business people engaged in trade with India.

Sam Hopwell, International Strategy Manager for Invest in Nottingham said: “Nottingham City Council was pleased to support the PGVC.  Mindways’ business proposal was well written and we commend its mission to support Indian students to choose the best location when selecting an international university. We felt this proposition is aligned to one of the objectives of our India Campaign in which we hope to see an increased number of Indian students choosing Nottingham.”

The competition was led by Chris Mahon, Deputy Director of MBA Programmes at Nottingham University Business School. Chris said: “The Postgraduate Venture Challenge exists to help student entrepreneurs develop and grow new businesses by providing access to the three pillars of entrepreneurial success: human capital, social capital and financial capital. This is not just a learning exercise. We want to help create new businesses that thrive, and this year's finalists and prize winners are off to a great start. Overall, students from 24 different Schools took part in the competition, and the creativity and passion put forth by all was truly inspirational. Congratulations to this year's prize winners and finalists.

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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham has 43,000 students and is ‘the nearest Britain has to a truly global university, with campuses in China and Malaysia modelled on a headquarters that is among the most attractive in Britain’ (Times Good University Guide 2014). It is also the most popular university in the UK among graduate employers, in the top 10 for student experience according to the Times Higher Education and one of the world’s greenest universities

Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest-ever fundraising campaign, is delivering the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. More news…

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More information is available from Kelly Cookson, Communications Officer at The University of Nottingham, on +44 (0) 115 846 6860,

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