Tio's founders Ashley Wiltshire, Peter Spence and Mario Morello.

Tio triumphs at NACUE's Varsity Pitch

Tech company Tio wins national business competition.

Back in October we reported on NACUE’S Varsity Pitch competition, a national early-stage business pitching competition run by the National Association of College and University Entrepreneurs (NACUE), encouraging and celebrating the best businesses to come out of colleges and universities across the UK.

The Grand Final saw nine budding entrepreneurs pitch live at The China Exchange in London at the end of November to a panel of expert judges, with a team of graduates from Imperial College London, Bournemouth University and the Royal College of Art winning the top prize of £10,000 for their start-up tech company Tio.

NACUE chief executive, Johnny Luk said of the winners: “It was fantastic to see Tio win the Varsity Pitch 2015. They represent all that is great with British entrepreneurship, bringing passion, innovation and creativity to the competition. As recent graduates, they demonstrate the sheer talent of the young entrepreneurs that NACUE have the pleasure of working with every day.”

Tomorrow’s inventors

Founded by Peter Spence, Mario Morello and Ashley Wiltshire, Tio creates inspiring tech for tomorrow's inventors. Their toys encourage learning whilst playing, enabling you to build app-controlled toys in seconds, with an infinite number of possibilities.

Speaking about their success at the competition, Peter Spence said: “We felt ecstatic and privileged to be selected for the Grand Final. It was an invaluable opportunity to meet and compare experiences with other start-ups, refine and practice our pitch and meet high-profile judges and mentors who we hope will support us moving forward. The feedback we received from the judges was very positive and encouraging as we bring Tio to market.”

The competition, supported by TATA, seeks to find students or recent graduates with the most innovative, creative and disruptive businesses. This year’s Varsity Pitch had over 400 applications and 14,000 online votes.

The judges, David Landsman, executive director of Tata, Claire Burke, acting editor of the Guardian Small Business Network, Andrew Webber, senior audience marketing lead at Microsoft UK and Ian Macleod, marketing director at YPlan, were impressed with the diversity and innovation of the pitches, but chose Tio for it’s potential to affect future generations.

Taking up this theme, David Landsman, executive director of Tata said: “We thought Tio was more than just another tech toy…The platform is versatile, offering the business the scope to develop new products and keep ahead of the competition…But for me at Tata, what was most attractive is that Tio could really contribute to enthusing young people about engineering and be a thoroughly enjoyable part of their STEM experience.’

Next generation

With the much-talked about skills shortage in UK engineering and technology in mind, we asked Peter for his thoughts about the importance of encouraging the next generation.

“The team and I really believe it is key to inspire tomorrow’s inventors in a way that resonates with them. Tio wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t had inspiring mentors throughout my life and more specifically throughout my engineering career. Inspiration comes in many different ways and at Tio, we believe we can promote engineering by providing children with an easy-to-use platform that encourages interactive learning, creativity and long-term play.

“We aim to enable children to develop future skills and knowledge including engineering and technology, team work and problem solving. To do that we want to create a new way of inventing, playing and learning together.”

Peter explained that when he was a child he was always making and building toys and vividly remembers the inspiration that these experiences provided. He adds, “Fast forward 20 years and following an engineering degree, I felt I had the knowledge and drive to invent my dream toy. I wanted to create a product that could be enjoyed by kids of all ages.

“Technology has come a long way since I was a child and I found other products in the market to be complex and limiting. It was time to invent a product that truly combines the feeling of creating with your hands and the power of today’s technology. This is when Tio was born.”

Top tips

Luckily, Peter has some top tips for all you budding entrepreneurs out there:

“There are a number of quotes that have inspired my entrepreneurial journey. My main advice can be summarised in a quote by Catherine Cook, co-founder of MyYearbook: “To any entrepreneur: if you want to do it, do it now. If you don’t, you’re going to regret it.” On a more practical note, these are my top five points:

  1. Have a clear vision, mission and purpose – our mission is to inspire tomorrow’s inventors with a new way of inventing, playing and learning.
  2. Build a balanced team – it is very difficult to launch a business on you own – at Tio we are lucky to have a group of passionate individuals who excel in their own areas including engineering, design and marketing
  3. Create an experience not a product – start making and listening to users on day one. Focus on placing prototypes into the hands of the user as early as possible and listen and learn from them. Do this early and continuously and you will be on the right path to creating a valuable and unique experience.
  4.  Keep it simple, start with one product and focus on it. Attention to detail is key to delivering a successful product.
  5. Be confident, patient and tenacious – it’s going to be a lot of hard work and a challenging journey.”

The future’s looking bright

Tio is now manufacture-ready and the team are currently working with manufacturing partners to refine the supply chain and distribution strategy. Peter explains: “We are building brand awareness with a number of marketing and comms activities which will increase leading up to the launch of our Kickstarter campaign in early 2016. It is a very exciting time for us and we really look forward to bringing Tio to market.”

Previous Varsity Pitch winners include innovative cycling company Blaze, which has since launched its Laserlight product in three different countries and recently partnered with Santander Cycles in London.


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