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Young entrepreneurs triumph at the 14th annual Student Start-up and Freelance Awards

29 May 2024

Back row: Josh, Yaqoob, Calvin, Faheem, Jack, Matas. Front row: AbdulAlim, Jenn, Elliot, Harry, Hajira

Twelve young student entrepreneurs have emerged victorious from the annual Cardiff University Student Start-Up and Freelance Awards.

The competition saw 22 aspiring businesses go head-to-head, Dragon’s Den style, to pitch their idea across a range of categories. Winners from each category were awarded a share of the £18,000 prize pot that was up for grabs which they can use to grow their businesses. They will also receive ongoing mentoring and support from the University’s Enterprise and Start-up Team.

The award ceremony took place at sbarc|spark on 1 May and was the culmination of three days of exhilarating and inspiring pitches made by the students to a panel of expert judges. As well as the judges’ picks, for the first time this year a live audience vote was introduced to allow for peer recognition and engagement. The event also provided participants with an opportunity to celebrate with their fellow students and network with University staff and key external partners, practising the soft-skills which will help them as they take their businesses forwards.

The students competed across 4 categories – the Outstanding Founder Award, the Innovation Development Award, and the Inspiring Idea Award, sponsored by Santander Universities, and the Inspired Engineers Award sponsored by Engineers in Business.

Outstanding Founder Award

The Outstanding Founder grand prize of £5000 was snapped up by 1st year undergraduate Modern History and Politics student Elliot Allen. Elliot is the founder of MoveMe, a student moving and storage company specialising in moving from first year accommodation to second year houses.

Elliot said: “The Cardiff University Start-up awards program was an invaluable experience, helping everyone involved gain real world experience, whilst making useful contacts, and the funding I received from the award was transformational for my business. I am using the funding to buy a van for the moving which has helped offset our biggest upfront cost, and we are in the process of purchasing a marketing package from the Students Union to help advertise and grow the business.”

Runner-up: Yaqoob Ahmad (2nd year undergraduate Business and Management) and Josh Gill (Computer Science Graduate 2022) - Templog Ltd

Audience winner: Faheem Islam (2nd year undergraduate Civil and Environmental Engineering) - GULI Shots Ltd

Elliot accepts his award.

Innovation Development Award

In the Innovation Development Award, 4th year undergraduate International Business Management student Calvin Bang claimed the top prize of £3000 with his beverage business Taff Cola Ltd. Calvin was also a finalist in this year’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year (Wales) at the UK Start-Up Awards.

Calvin said: “We are incredibly proud that Taff Cola Ltd has been selected as the winner of the Innovative Development Award 2024. The prize money will accelerate our next step toward mass production! We are committed to democratising the Welsh soft drinks industry through transparency and honesty, which we believe is long overdue.”

Runner-up and audience winner: Jenn Goodge (MSc Marketing) - Paw Dogs

Calvin holding up a bottle of Taff Cola
Calvin with a bottle of Taff Cola.

Inspiring Ideas Award

The Inspiring Ideas Award was won by MSc Computing student AbdulAlim U-K, who received not only first place, but also the audience prize, winning a grand total of £1500 towards expanding his business Horizun. Horizun is an immersive platform that leverages augmented reality technology and AI powered avatars in providing tailored career assessments and job simulations to college and undergraduate students. The unique experience fills the gap in outdated traditional career guidance providing engaging, practical, real-world scenarios for more informed career choices.

AbdulAlim said: “The Cardiff University student enterprise team’s support has been pivotal to my business by facilitating pitch practice, conducting business mentor meetings, and signposting me towards beneficial events. I plan to use the prize funds to fuel research and development in creating a Minimum Viable Product while engaging with industry experts and stakeholders.”

Runner-up: Mengxing Zhou (PhD in Social Sciences) - Global Mindset Training

AbdulAlim accepts his award

Inspired Engineers Award

The top prize of £1500 in the Inspired Engineers Award was scooped up by enterprising duo Hajira Irfan, a 2nd year undergraduate Integrated Engineering student, and Harry Parkinson, a 2nd year undergraduate Physics with Astronomy student, for their idea of The Algae Photobioreactor. Inspired by the work of Dr Ivan Spasojević, their idea is to design an urban photo-bioreactor on Cardiff’s campus which utilises the power of microalgae to remove CO2 from the air, helping the University in it’s aim of becoming a greener institution.

Hajira and Harry said: “Winning the top prize has unlocked a world of opportunities for our project as we are no longer limited by funding, and to know the judges believed in our idea has bolstered our confidence. Cardiff University has been so helpful to get our idea off the ground and we have benefited so much from academics across different faculties who have been eager to help us. The academic community here is like no other, and the collaborative spirit between departments has been the catalyst for ideas like ours.”

Second place: Matas Jarutis (Final year undergraduate Medical Engineering) - Kanso Sense

Third place: Jack Willipotte (Final year undergraduate Civil Engineering) - Homeowners Construction Help

Harija and Harry present their winning entry to the judges

Praising all those who took part, Georgina Moorcroft, Senior Manager of Student Enterprise and Start-Up, said: “The Start-Up and Freelance Awards is a pinnacle annual event where we are able to celebrate a whole year’s worth of achievements."

Each year I am amazed by the students and graduates we have at Cardiff University, not just the finalists and winners but everyone who takes part in our programmes. The standard of the finalists this year was so high, and the judges had a difficult decision to make.
Georgina Moorcroft Senior Manager of Student Enterprise and Start-Up, Cardiff University

She continued: "Thank you so much to everyone who contributed to the awards this year and a massive thank you and congratulations to all the students and graduates involved, you should all be incredibly proud of yourselves. I think we’ll see a few of these names popping up again in the future!”

Winning at the Start-Up and Freelance Awards can have a huge impact on progressing a business idea. Last year’s Outstanding Founder Award winner Lucy Wooldridge, a 3rd year undergraduate Law student, is the founder of Lolli Lifting – a female fitness gear brand. Lucy used the £5000 prize money to expand her range of products and invest in professional photography to level up her social media and website. Since her win she has partnered with multiple PureGym venues across the country to increase her businesses visibility in the marketplace and has taken up co-location space within Cardiff Innovations at sbarc|spark.

Rhys Pearce Palmer, Innovation Operations Manager at Cardiff Innovations, said: “University is an ideal environment for creative students to explore business start-up. Not only are they surrounded by academic expertise, they can take advantage of the university’s wealth of business and industry links. Students and recent graduates who are starting-up can join the Cardiff Innovations community here at sbarc|spark where they can connect with businesses from different sectors and various stages of growth. We have a strong community ethos where lessons and experiences are shared to ensure students gain great advice, insights, and support.”