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UCL students get on their bikes to win London Entrepreneurs’ Challenge 2011

22 December 2011

blue e-challenge logo

The festive season has brought good cheer to four teams of students who won awards totaling £13,000 in this year’s London Entrepreneurs’ Challenge, which is managed by UCL Advances.

The winners were:

  • Sycle - London Entrepreneurs' Challenge Champion (£5,000)
  • Ju$txt - Postgraduate/staff/alumni category (£3,000)
  • SmartSearch - Undergraduate category (£3,000)
  • Neighbourfood - Provost’s Prize (£2,000)

Sixteen teams made up the finals and all presented their ideas to a panel of judges made up of UCL staff, former winners and external experts/investors, on 13th December. It was the culmination of three months of intensive workshops and business plan preparations in a competition that aims to show participants the process of starting a business by helping them do it for themselves.

The programme, now in its tenth year, is open to all members of UCL, Royal Veterinary College, Birkbeck, the School of Pharmacy and London Business School.

Sycle has developed a green and stylish carbon-fibre, compact, folding electric bike that comes with the eSycle, a small portable device, and the appSycle, a mobile application for smartphones, both of which are designed to run, control and navigate the bike. The market for e-bikes doubles in size every two years in the EU, and early indications are that the start-up will break even and perhaps generate a profit within the first year of operation.

Project leader Marcin Piatkowski (MSc Technology Entrepreneurship) says: “We will use the prize money of £5,000 to manufacture our prototype and move the project to next level – the last one before pitching for £350,000 in order to help the company become fully functional.”

Tim Barnes, Director of UCL Advances and one of the judges, says: “Sycle ticked a number of boxes for us: it involves making a solid product; it is eco-friendly; and it represents a chance for a European manufacturing to sell into China – the biggest electric bike market. We were impressed with Marcin’s thorough customer research, even braving the rush hour at Euston Station.”

Ju$txt is a social enterprise that has created the first SMS-enabled bribe reporting platform, designed to aid organisations and governments in the fight against corruption. Citizens can securely and anonymously report their experiences online, via Twitter, smartphone application, or by free SMS to a dedicated shortcode. The information feeds into a central database to avoid duplication of effort and allow sharing of work among anti-corruption organisations. Operations Director Sian Lea (UCL alumnus, Political Science) says: “We have already started a partnership with a local not-for-profit in Nigeria and have begun discussions with Transparency International. The prize money of £3,000 gives us recognition and the motivation to continue with our business, as well as provides us with the means to begin to turn our business plan into a reality.”

Martin Poschenrieder, another judge and previous winner of the competition with TipGain.com, adds: “It’s estimated that around 90% of the world’s population has a mobile phone, compared to around a third with an Internet connection. Ju$txt will enable more people to make their voices heard and will unite corruption campaigns across the world.

SmartSearch is a novel search interface, intended to change the way academics and students use the Internet for research. It is more intuitive than other search engines, creating a visual mind map of the user query and allowing users to refine their search by selecting suggested sub-searches. CEO William Jones (BSc Mathematics), one of a team of students from UCL Maths, SSEES and Computer Science, says: “We’re looking to use the prize money of £3,000 to obtain a patent and develop a proof-of-concept prototype for the UCL Electronic Library services. We hope neighbouring London universities will be quick to adopt the idea and it will spread throughout the UK.”

Neighbourfood is an online platform that connects home chefs in the local community with consumers in search of delicious and reasonably priced dinner options. It is inspired by the dabbawalla practice in India, whereby home-cooked meals are delivered in reusable containers to office workers and sometimes schoolchildren. Chief Strategy Officer James Lu (Honorary Research Fellow, Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging) says: “The market for a community of consumers and chefs is currently negligible and Neighbourfood has the rare opportunity to make a market.”

Tim Barnes adds: “The Provost’s Prize recognises the best proposal from a team with members from multiple participating institutions. James and his three colleagues from London Business School have combined their presentation, project management, technical and financial skills and e-commerce and social networking experience to come up with an interesting, unusual and thoroughly mapped-out concept.”

Lillian Shapiro, UCL Advances’ Student Business Advisor and also a judge, praised everyone for their hard work over the past three months: “This is just the start of a continuing process, with 2012 bringing new opportunities and competitions to take their ideas forward.”

Among those other competitions UCL Advances helps to organise are: