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Alumni entrepreneurs use startup funding to adapt their businesses during Covid-19

Alumni entrepreneurs use startup funding to adapt their businesses during Covid-19

Image: Hugo Tilmouth (ChargedUp) and Calum Wragg-Smith and Ed Kellard (The Good Slice)

Following the launch of the Covid-19 Startup Support Fund last month in partnership with Santander Universities and Research England, the Exeter Student Startups team have now awarded grants to 10 graduate startups, allowing them to innovate their business models in response to Covid-19. One month on, we are sharing the stories behind the recipients and how the funding has been used to preserve and strengthen their businesses.


Three years ago Falmouth-based students Hugo Tilmouth and Hakeem Buge launched ChargedUp, the Boris Bike equivalent of on-the-go phone charging. ChargedUp users can scan an app, borrow a phone battery and return it to any of the 1000+ battery stations located across the UK, only paying for the time you use it. The app now has 250,000 users and new networks have recently been set up in Amsterdam and across Germany.

With a large number of power banks located in event venues and pubs, when Covid-19 hit the ChargedUp network was practically closed overnight. With the help of the Startup Support grant, the ChargedUp team have launched a new business – CleanedUp. The team have funded the development of 6000 auto-dispensing hand sanitiser units which have been installed across the UK to help combat coronavirus while also expanding the ChargedUp business.

Hugo said: ‘In the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic it has been fantastic to know that we can keep our staff on board and this grant has helped with that, which in turn has meant our company has been able to continue to thrive. The future of ChargedUp continues to look bright!’

The Good Slice

School friends Calum Wragg-Smith and Ed Kellard launched The Good Slice in 2017 inspired by their experience travelling in Malawi where they visited Well Wishes nursery which had no funding for their feeding program. After one year of selling ‘pizza with purpose’ at The Good Slice, they funded the entire feeding program for the nursery, and have also teamed up with homeless charity Glass Door to provide 17,000 meals for the homeless.

This year Calum and Ed had spots selling pizza at several festivals including Glastonbury, all of which were cancelled due to Covid-19. Using the Startup Support grant, they are testing and validating a new ‘letterbox pizza’ product. The funding has been put towards surveys and advertisements to gage customer interest, working with a professional pizza chef to develop the product and with a packaging specialist to make the box design as sustainable as possible.

Calum said: ‘This grant will enable us to test and confirm whether our pivot strategy has the potential to succeed. It has the ability to help grow our idea into a reality, creating real social change.'

Paddle Logger

Water sports lover David Walker launched Paddle Logger, a water sports tracking app for iPhone and Apple Watch in 2015. The app allows you to monitor fitness, track distances as well keep safe on the water by keeping someone on land updated on your location.


The team were concerned that lockdown would mean no paddle boarding globally for many months, and using some of their paddle safety technology started planning and building a running app, RunLIVE, aimed to keep women safe when running alone during lock down. The grant gave the team at Paddle Logger the chance to focus on this new product and the app is in its final round of testing. The grant has also given the Paddle Logger team the chance to get creative during lockdown and continue to work for their community by hosting the Paddle Logger Adventure Virtual film festival as well as updating their apparel line.

David said: “The grant initially gave us the confidence to continue to develop positively, rather than prepare for damage limitation.”

Since the gradual easing of lockdown, there has been a boom in the number of people taking to the water, resulting in a rise in Paddle Logger users - so much so, that RunLIVE will now be released in the winter.


Tom Charman and fellow Exeter student Olivia Higgs were inspired to launch their startup Nava after living in Germany on a year abroad and wishing there was an easier way to navigate the city of Munich and find things to do. Co-founded by Tom, Olivia and Kurt, NAVA uses machine learning to establish the user’s interests and gives recommendations of what to do in the city, including restaurants and events.

With the closure of restaurants and venues, the NAVA team have used their Covid-19 grant to fund the launch of a new subscription-based online platform, which allows users to learn how to cook from home with videos uploaded from chefs around the world. They have a range of chefs on the platform already – from Native American chefs to a chef cooking Senegalese soul food – their focus is on creating a platform that highlights diversity and culture. The grant has been used for on-boarding customers and chefs and building additional features into the app which will allow users to order ingredients to their door. They hope to launch the platform in early July.

For more information on these startups, visit their websites:

For more information about the COVID-19 Startup Support Fund and details on how to apply, please contact Emily Davies (SETsquared Exeter Student Startup Manager).

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