News & Press Cuttings
Competition is backing business in our region
(26 October 2010)
THE Blueprint awards have been highlighting the entrepreneurial spirit of graduates across the region for the last seven years. CHRISTOPHER KNOX talks to the organisers as well as some of the winners past and present.
As homegrown businesses become increasingly key to the revival of the UK economy there are growing hopes for Ithe commercial opportunities being created by our universities.
In the North East we have five universities and the success of schemes like Science City in Newcastle and Netpark in County Durham and then to build companies based on research is proving that academics can be at the heart of promising and sustainable businesses.
Now in its seventh year, the Blueprint Awards recognises the best business plans from students, graduates, staff or alumni of Durham, Newcastle, Northumbria, Teesside and Sunderland Universities.
The competition plays an important role in highlighting and encouraging the growth of businesses linked to our universities and helps to keep talented and entrepreneurial students in the North East.
Starting with just one category - the Business Winner - the competition now boasts four, with the entrants also benefiting from a greater involvement from the region's business community, whether it be through sponsorship of the event or the provision of free advice and mentoring.
Each university first holds its own competition, with the winners chosen to write up a comprehensive business plan as well as pitch their business ideas to a panel of expert judges.
This year's awards, which were held at the Hilton Newcastle Gateshead hotel last Thursday, were the most hotly contested yet, with the judges confident that each of the 27 business cases were worthy of attracting investment.
As well the kudos of walking away with one of the four top prizes, this year also saw the winners take home £5,000 each to invest in their business, while each of the runners-up received a not too shabby £2,000.
In addition, the winners were given a host of free services to help them grow their ventures to the next level, including £2,500 worth of business advice from Newcastle-based law firm Dickinson Dees and a year's free office space at NETPark in Sedgefield, County Durham.
Taking home this year's top prize in the Business Award category was Newcastle University graduate Adam Soliman who launched tea business Charbrew last year with backing from Tyneside entrepreneur Dr Tony Trapp.
Blended in Germany, his teas are now sold nationwide at Lakeland stores, with a number of supermarkets including North West chain Booths signed up.
WINNER ADAM STRENGTHENS HIS MARKETS
WINNER of this year’s Business Awards at the Blueprint Awards, Charbrew was set up by Newcastle University graduate, Adam Soli man , after he became frustrated with the lack of choice in the tea sections of most supermarkets.
The 22-yearold who has always been enthusiastic about high quality tea has tracked down a number of specialist tea blenders in Germany and is importing the tea to the UK to be sold at a number of specialist shops as well as independent supermarket chain Booths.
He plans to use his £5,000 prize to outsource the packaging of his tea to a firm in Manchester and is hoping to move back to the North East after moving back with his parents in Poulton-le-Fylde, near Blackpool, after graduating in accountancy and finance.
He has already benefited from £3,000 from Northumberland entrepreneur Dr Tony Trapp's ABC Fund and also scooped £2,000 at the Santander Business Incubation Awards.
The young businessman now expects the cash to help him expand his operations across the UK and recently signed deals with Sainsbury’s and Asda for the supermarket giants to stock his teas from next year.
He has also reached an agreement with online supermarket Ocado to stock his products from January. The range includes Strawberry Cream Tea, Original, Tropical Rooibas Tea and Black Tea.
He said: "The business has really taken off over the last few months, with my involvement in the Blueprint Awards going a long way to impress my customers and suppliers:'
The Creative and Design Award was won by Squirrel Audio, with Durham University graduates Douglas Bourne and William Soutter winning sales for their firm which sells customised effects pedals to musicians.
The pair are already working on a range of new products and are aiming to have them played by some of the country's biggest musicians.
SQUIRREL Audio Was setup by Durham University flatmates Douglas Bourne and William Soutter to make guitar pedals after they realised that much of the technology currently used was based on a 1960s' design.
Douglas Bourne, an undergraduate at Durham University studying mechanical engineering, and Will Soutter who graduated with a chemistry degree from the university, picked up The Creative and Design Award at this year's Blueprint Awards. The duo, both 22 have developed a pedal that mirrors guituare effects beard from the likes of Jimi Hendrix, but also benefits from today's modern technology.
They now plan to use their £5,000 prize money make 200 of their Fuzzy Squirrel Pedals which will retails for £120 each. The pair, who are looking for manufacturers to work with them are already developing a range of new pedals and will soon begin looking at other musical products. The pair are now hopeful of selling the pedals to some of the UK’s biggest bands, having mainly sold to session musicians so far.
Souttter said “Winning the award was brilliant because it gave validation to our idea. So far we’ve been making them individually and selling them on ebay but, with the £5,000 we won last week and with the help of Newcastle Science City, we’re looking for a manufacturer to produce our current range so we can focus on developing new products.”
The Social Enterprise Award went to Emily Henderson of Durham University, whose firm Total Lifestyle Camps run fitness camps for children in the school holidays, while the Knowledge Transfer Award went to Durham Graphene Science, which is run by Durham University's Dr Karl Coleman to develop and retail products containing graphene, a carbon; nano-material that could potentially replace carbon fibre.
Brian Tanner, Dean of Knowledge Transfer at Durham University and co-founder of the Blueprint Awards, said: “The awards have truly become a major part of the business calendar over recent years.
"They were set up to bridge the gap between the region's universities and its business community and each year has seen a greater effort from the private sector to help support these budding entrepreneurs.
"All of the entrants nave benefited from one-on-one mentoring, which has been a great help to them. The wealth of contacts they are also able to pick up throughout the process and on the night itself is reason alone to enter.
"For example, last year’s ceremony was attended by highly successful US entrepreneur and 'ex-TV dragon Doug Richard, who was so impressed by some of the businesses that he asked to talk to them after the night had finished. "The finalists were absolutely blown away to have his phone number."
Northumberland-based not-for-profit company, Musa Fine Art has also been an integral part of the awards since being crowned overall winner at the inaugural competition in 2004, where they scooped a £10,000 first prize for best business plan.
Set up by ex-Northumbria University students Carol Metcalfe and Hilary Turner, the firm, which is based in Stocksfield, exhibits, sells, and hires art on behalf of North East artists, and secures com-missions for those that might otherwise struggle to get recognition.
The award has helped the business to even greater successes, with the company mashing its first year sales projection of £80, 000, with a turnover of £500,000.
Furthermore, the initial website was originally created to display the work of just 15 artists, but has since grown at an incredible rate, and now it accommodates more than 100 artists.
To show their appreciation for the award, Musa began sponsoring The Musa Dare to be Different 'Award in 2005, which is awarded to the entrant that show the most innovation in-their business idea.
Metcalfe, 49, who is an artist herself, said: "When Hilary and I went to the business pitch in 2004 we had no idea what was required of us and just went along wearing jeans and a top. When we saw all these fresh-faced graduates turn up with their business suits, we thought we had no chance.
"Even when we gave our pitch, the judges just sat in silence and seemed disinterested. However, we were told that they were absolutely gob-smacked about how thorough we had been, that they had no questions,
"This inspired us to create the Dare to Be Different Award as it inspires people to take a different approach to their businesses.”The Blueprint Award has allowed us to help more artists here in the North East."
The organisers of the awards are confident this year's shortlist will herald a number of business successes. Simon Green, business development team project manager at Newcastle Science City, advised of the entrants and acted as a mentor to Winners Charbrew and Squirrel Audio.
He said: "The calibre of applicant has been exceptional and it was fantastic to work with up and coming entrepreneurs and help them put together an action plan. Newcastle Science City was instrumental in helping many businesses spin out, so it is important that awards like these show the work universities and other institutions are doing to support the private sector.