Ed Moyse presenting his idea at the 2014 Varsity Pitch final.

NACUE's enterprising generation

Celebrating young entrepreneurial flair and innovation, NACUE’S Varsity Pitch competition is still open for entries!

A national early stage business pitching competition, NACUE’s Varsity Pitch has been encouraging and celebrating the best businesses coming out of colleges and universities across the UK since 2010.

The National Association of College and University Entrepreneurs (NACUE), a charity set up in 2009, is one of the UK’s leading organisations for engaging students in enterprise. It received government funding in 2011, allowing it to develop into a far bigger network of some 260 student and enterprise societies and, with its partners, works to identify, nurture and support talented young people across the country. Its chief executive, Johnny Luk, is a prominent commentator on entrepreneurship in education, and the enterprise sector more widely, and firmly believes in encouraging creative ideas that are not limited to the text book or curriculum.

The charity’s enterprise societies constitute a network of over 32,000 students in 260 institutions, and help connect students with each other and with NACUE partners, such as Tata, Microsoft, BVCA, Lloyds TSB and Santander, to improve their enterprise skills and give them a chance to put their entrepreneurial ideas into practice. Such groups provide funding, business incubator space and pop-up shops for student start-ups; others run hackathons to create solutions to business problems, bring leading speakers to campuses, and even create policy think-tanks, and all help UK educational institutions to engender an enterprising culture amongst their students.

For the partners, NACUE provides them with the opportunity to give back to the enterprise community and connect with potential new recruits among the most enterprising students in the country. As Dr David Landsman OBE, 2015 judge and executive director of Tata Ltd UK, comments: “Tata’s participation in Varsity Pitch is just as rewarding to us as I’m sure it is to the talented finalists. I personally look forward to seeing what a new generation of entrepreneurs has to offer to the fast-changing business landscape.”

Showing you the money

With £10,000 worth of prize money up for grabs, NACUE’s Varsity Pitch competition puts its money where its mouth is, feeding on the drive and innovation of current students or recent graduates with a brilliant idea or business that they want to take forward, and offering them the chance to obtain the funds with which to do it.

A three-stage competition format sees applicants creating a 60-second video pitch of their business or idea which they upload to YouTube. They then fill in an application form, choosing two categories to enter, and finally they share their application on social media, encouraging friends and family to vote for them. The resultant media storm provides an expansive platform on which to showcase the breadth and depth of business creativity coming out of UK universities, colleges and further education institutions. Those that survive the semi-final live panels enter the finalists’ boot camp where they receive mentoring and training from the experts.

Innovation comes in many flavours and this is reflected in the broad competition categories, remodelled for this year to complement broader start-ups, including social impact, genuine innovation, apps and online, and entertainment.

“Anyone can apply to the competition, with the only stipulation being that they have to be a current student or have graduated after 2010. NACUE Varsity Pitch represents all young people, across a really wide range of subject areas,” explains Luk.

“In past years, it tended to be that the majority of applicants were coming through the business and technology subject areas, but the categories are now deliberately broad to attract a broad range of students from a wide range of subject areas,” he adds.

Pitch perfect

This is reflected in the diversity of pitches received so far for this year’s competition. Everything from Loughborough University’s Sahil Jhamb with his ‘myIndia’ pitch, an idea for producing sustainable biomass briquettes to rural homes in India, and Thomas Paris from the University of the West of England with ‘scubawhere’, an online reservation system for scuba diving centres world-wide, to Bournemouth University’s Mario Morello with ‘Tio’ to inspire tomorrow’s inventors with app-controlled toys, and Ekaterina Matveeva from St Andrews University with ‘EuropeOnline’, an online language school with support apps promising to teach you your chosen language in just three months.

All are hoping for a slice of the pie of previous years’ high-profile success stories such as University of Brighton graduate Emily Brooke and her team’s success behind 2013 winning pitch Blaze Laserlight, an innovative bicycle light that projects a laser image of a bicycle onto the road ahead; and 2014 winners Ed Moyse and Harry Huang with their app Wyre, designed to make it easier for individuals to make payments in cafes, bars and to friends through the use of bitcoin.

“The Varsity Pitch was an amazing opportunity we’re really proud to have been part of. It’s a rapidly growing competition that’s opened up plenty of doors for us. We’re looking forward to what’s next,” says Moyse.

Outside the box

However, it’s not all about the high-profile success stories according to Luk. He wants the emphasis of NACUE’s Varsity Pitch to be on the whole experience, encouraging young people to apply for the experience, in and of itself, helping to create and nurture innovative thinking.

Along the way they’ll learn valuable new skills such as business planning, communication and pitching skills, and have their confidence boosted immeasurably.

“Winners in the past have tended to have a more advanced business idea, so one of the changes to this year’s competition is to introduce a new category – Young Founders (16-19) – specifically to get students at an earlier stage in their careers to apply,” he says.

NACUE’s Varsity Pitch has the opportunity to open up a whole new world: the opportunity to boost the skills, confidence and aspirations of young people in education across the UK, as well as opening doors for those budding entrepreneurs already innovating, and ultimately encouraging participants everywhere to elevate their aspirations, shape their own futures and be part of an evolving, enterprising culture.

“The current education system can place too much emphasis on getting grades over collaboration and problem-solving. I’m keen to get young people to think outside the box - it’s all about aspiration, encouraging them to focus on cutting-edge, front-facing innovation. Being part of an enterprise society, and competing in the NACUE Varsity Pitch is a great chance to do just that,” Luk notes.

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