On Monday 24 June, two Exeter-based student and graduate start-ups competed in the Santander Universities Entrepreneurship awards semi-finals at the University of Greenwich in London.
The pitching competition which first launched in 2011, saw 20 graduate start-ups from London and the South showcase their entrepreneurial flair, presenting their original and sustainable businesses to a panel of 5 judges to compete for a place in the finals.
The young entrepreneurs presented a five minute pitch which was followed by five minutes of rigorous questions from the panel. Exeter physics graduate Duncan Lyster, creator of sustainable surfboard company Lyster Surfcraft who competed in the event, commented that: “This was the highest standard of pitching I had ever seen at a university level event. Everybody’s pitches were very professional and well-practiced."
His sustainable start-up Lyster Surfcraft supplies wooden, light-weight surf boards as a sustainable solution to the environmental damage of plastic boards. Over the last 2 years since his start-up began, Duncan has benefitted from the financial support of Student Start-Up Exeter who provided him with a market validation grant allowing him to make 2 prototype boards, and continued funding since so that he could carry on developing the models. He is the first graduate to receive a Graduate Entrepreneur Maintenance (GEM) grant from SETsquared, which has given him the financial stability to work on the business full-time as a graduate. His website sells 2 types of wooden surf board and his long-term goal is to reach around 2000 sales per year by 2024.
The event enabled Duncan to make useful business connections with manufacturing companies and investors, creating promise for future investment and business partnerships. It also provided him with valuable experience of pitching the business plan in a competitive environment.
The Urban Mushroom Company, a start-up project run by 6 student volunteers from the University of Exeter’s Enactus Society also competed, and were represented at the event by students Robbie Evans and Lydia Smith. Their eco-friendly start-up, which is just one of three business projects the society have created, seeks to upcycle coffee grounds to grow sustainable and high-quality mushrooms. Their start-up was created in April last year, inspired by the work of existing Exeter company GroCycle. After several successful tests of their product, they hope to move to a bigger location in the coming year where they can produce 50 kilos of mushrooms a week and kick-start their first sales.
Robbie and Lydia received helpful and constructive feedback from the judges who were available to speak with throughout the whole-day event. Robbie said the competition was “a useful learning experience and has given us a clear idea of the level of advancement we would need moving forward”. Lydia added, “I would fully recommend going to this event, even if you are a small business just starting out”.
The national final of the Santander Universities Entrepreneurship awards takes place in October 2019. Among the finalists includes Emparity, a social enterprise headed up by Pahini Pandya empowering women and children in India. For more information on the competition visit the website.