Pants, plants and smart metering technology

Six diverse businesses - including specially engineered men’s underwear, herb kits to encourage urban gardening and innovative smart energy metering services - have been named winners of the 2015 University of Leeds Business Plan Competition organised by SPARK, the University’s business start-up service.

The annual competition awards prizes in two categories: Pre-trading and Trading up to 24 months. The winners each receive a cash prize of £2,000.

Kairen Skelley, business start-up expert at SPARK, said: “We’re seeing a new breed of entrepreneur emerging from the University. The business plans we’re seeing are not just innovative, they’re sophisticated, incredibly well researched and thought through - well beyond what you might traditionally expect from student entrepreneurs. The standard this year has been breath-taking.”

The awards were presented on Friday 13 March at an event at University House, attended by members of the business community from across the Leeds City Region.

First prize in the Trading category was awarded to Joseph Collier for his business Sycous Ltd. Launched in August last year by Joseph - a PhD student in medical engineering - and two friends, Matthew Hall and Luke Chambers, Sycous enables social housing providers to reduce their tenant’s energy bills by providing metering and billing hardware and software for district and communal heating schemes.

Sycous already has around 50 private and public sector clients on its books and was recently awarded a grant by The Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) to conduct a research project looking at ways of presenting billing information to customers and encouraging ways of reducing energy usage.

Says Joseph: “We knew we had a great idea and luckily approached Spark when we were still in the planning stage of our business. We received lots of advice on how to formalise our plans, and one of the professional services mentors has a background in the IT sector and was invaluable in helping us to test our software and hardware before launching it.

“Our client base is growing quickly, mainly through word of mouth, so we’ll be using the prize money to put together a strategic marketing plan so we can grow sustainably. I really want this to work – and I’m learning many new skills that I want to apply to a second business that I’m already planning, which uses the software platform for a completely different application.”

First prize in the Pre-trading category was won by James Wilkinson a 4th year student studying Product Design. James has developed a new product for the event production industry that is currently going through patent protection, so whilst he can’t yet publicly divulge any details, his idea has earned him an entrepreneur Fellowship from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) programme – one of only 10 fellowships awarded globally each year - together with an invite to the MIT Global Startup Workshop later this month in Guatemala. Along with this new business venture James also runs a separate business Onesoundhire.com.

James moved into the University’s new InTechnology incubator in January. “Spark has offered so many opportunities, I’m really excited and confident about the future of my business and I am thankful to have a huge network of people to draw on when I need it.”

Ms Skelley added: “The University’s dedication to supporting enterprise through the Spark service is unrivalled in the UK, with a raft of scholarships, a large network of professional services mentors, a growing entrepreneur alumni network and a new dedicated business incubator for student businesses funded by technology group InTechnology plc . There is no better place than the University of Leeds for students and graduates with talent and ambition to run their own companies.”

This year, prizes were awarded as follows:

Pre-trading:

1st: James Wilkinson, for his novel product for the events production industry.

2nd:Hanna Maderbocus and Mark Hutson (both 3rd year, Mechanical Engineering) for their men’s underwear engineered for comfort and support, which does not scale with waist size, allowing an optimised fit for men of all builds.

3rd:Josh Prior (2014 graduate in Environmental Management) for his herb growing kits composed of ready-made seed balls, a container and compost, with beginner-orientated instructions and videos. The product is designed to encourage households in urban areasto grow their own food, and take control of their diet and health.

Trading up to 24 months:

1st: Joseph Collier, for Sycous Ltd – a smart meter management and billing software application for reducing energy bills. www.sycous.com

2nd: James Gupta and Omair Vaiyani (both MSC Healthcare Infomatics students) for MyCQs, an education-technology platform which allows users to create, practice and share Multiple Choice Question (MCQ) tests with their colleagues and friends. https://mycqs.com/

3rd:Marie Stenton (2013 graduate in Textile Design), for her company Marie Stenton Ltd, a high-end women’s fashion and accessories label specialising in scientific, digital prints.
www.mariestenton.com