Student's sustainable business scoops £10k first prize

Student entrepreneur Olivia Simpson's sustainable initiative took the top prize of £10,000 in a competition run by the University of Wolverhampton.

 Joy Roxborough, Olivia Simpson and Louis Farrell
Joy Roxborough, Olivia Simpson and Louis Farrell

Nine university students won cash prizes and bespoke support to develop their fledgling businesses after the winners of the Lord Swraj Paul Award for Student Entrepreneurs were announced/

The award supports student entrepreneurial initiatives and is part of a charitable gift donated to the university by its Chancellor, Lord Paul, via the Ambika Paul Foundation.

The nine shortlisted finalists, who attended two business pitching workshops in May, gave a final live pitch to the judging panel.

The students pitched their business ideas at the University of Wolverhampton Business School to a panel of judges including the chairman Walter Gleeson, co-founder of musicMagpie and Highclear Investments; Dawn Tuck, head of new business at FBC Manby Bowdler; Stephanie Henson, founder and managing director of techtimeout; university alumna Keli King, founder of the Little Green Pantry and honorary graduate Sham Sharma, founder and chief executive of Sunitek and Zuri Coffee.

Olivia, aged 20, from Bridgnorth is a third-year student studying for a medical science and clinical practice degree. She set up SymbioTex focusing on producing bio-based, bio-degradable 3D printed products and filaments for the consumables market, mainly focusing on the medical sector.

She said: “I went out on placement as part of my course and visited hospitals around the region. I realised quickly how much plastic waste there was in the medical sector and that only a small amount of waste was being recycled.

“As the medical sector will undoubtedly grow stronger, I realised that there was a gap in the market for bio-degradable products that don’t release harmful fumes when they have to be burned or that can be put into the ground and break down naturally without causing harm to the environment.

“I was really thrilled to hear that I’d won first prize of £10,000. This is a really generous initiative which helps start-up businesses get going in the early stages of set up. I plan to use the money for patent protection. I’ve been working closely with researchers and academics in the University’s Science in Industry Research Centre (SIRC) developing and prototyping optimisation into materials and patenting the products is a priority for the business.

“It was great to be able to pitch to such a community-minded panel from a wide range of backgrounds. The questions were very challenging and the feedback was valuable _ it was a brilliant opportunity for us as students.”

Two students took the runner-up prizes of £5,000 each.

Joy Roxborough, 56 from Wolverhampton, who is in her second year of studying for a Master’s degree in Social Work, set up Roxborough Publishing and, as a children’s author, focuses on community publishing.

Joy said: “I’ve always been a writer and during the first lockdown I got involved in a crowdfunding campaign through Nat West. I’d drafted a picture book and needed to raise some money to get the illustrations created to accompany the words. I set up Roxborough Publishing and used some of the initial funding money to publish the book and this has opened other doors for me to get involved with the community.

“My idea is to use the prize money to work with children to help them publish some of their work, through picture books, which hopefully will boost their self-esteem and increase their confidence. I’m also going to look at how best I can market the book to reach a wider audience.”

Joy’s picture book is called I Wish I Were a Bird and is about a little boy who observes the fascinating antics of a bird and wishes he could be a bird too. The bird offers to exchange places with him, and that wish takes the boy on a whimsical journey, swapping identities with a number of animals that he meets on the way.

Louis Farrell, 31 from Solihull, in his first year of studying for a football coaching and performance degree, pitched his community football and sports fitness business, Winnr Sports CIC, to the panel. Winnr Sports is a not-for-profit community interest company which delivers football and sports sessions for teenagers and young adults focusing on both mental and physical health, using modern technology and video sessions for data and performance analysis to monitor their individual and physical development and progress.

Lord Paul said: “It’s wonderful to see students engaging with business ideas so early in their careers. The University is proud of the opportunities it offers to students in terms of preparing them for the world of work and enterprise is key to building back better communities following the pandemic.

“I’m very proud for this funding to have been the catalyst to further progress ideas for these amazing emerging businesses and am looking forward to seeing what benefits they bring in the long-term.”

Winners of the £1,000 investment prizes were: Nick Landon, Pioneer Leadership – troubled teens outward bound and leadership training; Kelly Hadley, MAYE - photography; Sadie Miller, Maggs & Vegan Material House – vegan design and building material database; Hamlet Reynoso, Vanderhorst & Cocodrone – drone design and innovation; Aaron Prior, PMedia – photography and multimedia development and Gemma Newey, Mythica Studios – ceramic glass product development.

If you are a student or recent graduate interested in being your own boss or are already the owner of an early-stage start-up and would like to benefit from specialist business development support contact to find out more.

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