On the 29th of November, the first phase of the annual StartUp Sussex entrepreneurship competition reached the height of its concluding crescendo. 27 individuals, or teams, pitched their ideas in front of 2 judges, and only 6 of them would went through to the second phase of the programme. It was exciting and tense, to say the least.
StartUp Sussex is open for all students currently on undergraduate or postgraduate courses at the University of Sussex, as well as anyone who has completed a degree at the university within the past 3 years. As such, we get an array of current student entrepreneurs and recent graduates who, after finishing university, realise they have a great business idea.
The programme is designed to help develop entrepreneurial skills and ways of thinking, while teaching participants the tools that our consultants at the Sussex Innovation Centre employ with our member businesses. The actual workshops take place once a week throughout a two-month period between October and December. They cover everything from the initial, more theoretical philosophy of creativity and ideation, to more practical every day operations, including a finance and business model canvas for when they have a better idea of the enterprise they want to create. They also have a crash course on pitching, in order to fully prepare them for their final presentations in front of the judges. The programme teaches the practical needs of a start-up business while also imbuing participants with the skills to develop future ideas.
During the second phase of the programme, the 6 finalists partake in a further 1 day a week workshop for 9 weeks, in which they develop their 16-page business plan, before undergoing a second round of pitching in front of the same judges, with four angel investors. The 3 winners are provided with valuable start-up funding. This takes the form of three bursary prizes of £10,000, £5,000 and £2,500. The winners can use this bursary to develop their business, as decided by them and their mentor assigned to them from within the team of Sussex Innovation consultants.
StartUp Sussex winners, 2016
The success of these enterprises hangs on the effort the students and soon-to-be graduates put in. From the three 2015 graduates, Chris O’Hare started up a digital agency called Hare Digital which currently employs 8 recent Sussex graduates. He also won the 2016 Sussex Graduate of the Year at the Sussex Business Awards. Nick Musto started his app Radar, the ultimate guide to student night life, which now employs 5 full-time staff having won the Young Start Up talent award for £50,000 in 2016. George Lengyel started his app Hubbub, a social media app that connects people through meaningful conversations via their location. He is currently pitching to win the Young Start Up Talent 2017 award. These are just a few examples of how StartUp Sussex has aided in jump-starting the careers and businesses of Sussex students and alumni.
Even among those who don’t make it through to the second phase, there are some who used the skills gained from the workshops to start their businesses through other means. Andreas Georgiades, who participated in the competition in 2015, did not get through to the second phase. However, he continues to work on his idea, and won the Santander Student Bursary award for it, enabling him to start up his ‘Brighton Greeks’ community, which helps Greeks in Brighton with everything from advice on how to find housing and jobs, to entertainment within Brighton. He is currently looking to win the Young Start Up talent 2017 award, in order to expand his idea both beyond Brighton, and to other nationalities, creating helpful community networks throughout the UK.
All in all, I am excited to get the second phase of this year’s StartUp Sussex on the road. It will be interesting to see where and how far the next 6 great entrepreneurs will go, and to see the great things they will shortly be doing within and beyond the Brighton community!