Budding entrepreneurs have won a share of a £35,000 prize fund after facing a panel of business dragons, writes Graham Walker.
The businessmen and women pitched their ideas to expert judges and a live audience as part of the climax to this year’s Spark Notts business idea competition.
DISE Ltd, a group of four students from the University of Nottingham who develop bespoke apps for businesses, was named winner of the Under 25s category and walked away with a package worth £18,500.
ChiroMarket Ltd, which skills self-employed chiropractors to grow their own businesses, was crowned winner in the Over 25s and won a package worth £16,900.
The prize fund includes a host of business support services and resources donated by local companies.
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DISE Ltd founding member Stephen Sowole said: ”We’re in disbelief to be honest - it’s been a great competition.”
Fellow student and business partner Dipo Areoye added: “I think Spark’s been the missing piece of the jigsaw with us. We already know how to develop publications and our services but we had no idea how to manage a business and Spark has just guided us and been amazing mentors by allowing us to achieve our goals.”
Naomi Mills, of ChiroMarket, said: “I was very surprised and very excited to have won. I was really, really pleased. On a practical level, winning has meant that I’m now going to be able to go ahead and get my new website which I really need. It means I can go out there and get the PR and the marketing going and learn a lot more about selling digital products online so all the skill needs which I wasn’t meeting myself are now going to be met.”
Coun Roy Allan, Vice Chair of Economic Development at Nottingham County Council, who headed up the panel of judges said: “This year’s Spark Notts has proved once again that the region boasts some of the best entrepreneurial talent anywhere in the UK. The standard of entrants was phenomenal and all six finalists are a real credit to the region.
“This year’s finalists are exactly the kind of people who we need to help to further boost this region’s economy and, on the strength of the pitches I saw, will no doubt go on to generate jobs and prosperity too.
“The final was truly exciting and I’m glad that, together with Oxford Innovation, Nottinghamshire County Council has been able to play its part in helping to facilitate entrepreneurialism.”
Rachel Panther, Oxford Innovation’s Business Support Director, said: “the Judges had an incredibly tough decision to make. Each of the finalists pitched with confidence and clarity, and any of them would have been worthy winners of the prizes.
“DISE and ChiroMarket were selected due to their strong plans, their ambition to grow and their potential to create jobs. Myself and the Oxford Innovation team are excited to begin working with them and moving plans forward. Both are fantastic businesses and I am sure we will all be hearing a lot more from them in the next few years.”
The six finalists had just six minutes to pitch to the dragons. The runner up businesses were Abdulrahman Abdullahi of Tayb, producing healthy ready meals; Kelly Roberts of Bitter Lollipop, an online women’s clothing brand; Reta & Kurt Randall of Miashy, a high quality eatery and Sarah Philips of Vein Train, providing specialist training in clinical skills of vascular access.
Selecting the winners on a Dragons’ Den style judging panel along with Coun Allan were Tom Mawhood, Rosie McArtney, Mark Chivers and Trefor Davies, each of whom are successful entrepreneurs and investors in their own right.
It was the culmination of a six-month process which saw the entrants benefit from a comprehensive programme of business workshops, as well as one-on-one strategic planning sessions, helping to hone their skills, build profitable business models and develop robust plans to drive growth and commercial success.
The finalists initially submitted a competition entry in Spring 2014, and as they made it through the various stages of the competition, they received expert business and financial mentoring, press coverage and pitch training.