A group of London's universities are launching a new collaboration – OpenSME – that seeks to make it easier for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to access the expertise and knowledge they offer.
Journey to the Dragon’s Den
5 October 2012
It wasn’t a destination that Art Stavenka, 26, had ever envisaged when his road to entrepreneurship began at UCL: a slot on one of the most watched searches for entrepreneurial talent in the UK, Dragon’s Den.
Yet it is where he and his business partner Kiryl Chykeyuk – a DPhil student at Oxford University – will find themselves this Sunday when they present their business, Old Bond Ltd. to the judges, hoping for their investment.
The technology behind their business is simple: four strips of LED lights attached to the spokes of bike wheels. The result, however, is mesmerising – startling animations which can advertise words and phrases, move, and even rotate.
For Art, originally from Belarus, it was a journey which began when he spotted the technology being used in the US – it was designed by a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – and from there he acquired an exclusive licence for the use of the technology in the UK. It was when he moved to UCL to study his PhD after an LLM in Law at Manchester University, that he began to explore the potential of the technology seriously.
With a conviction that the technology would be ideally suited to advertising on London’s streets, especially around the Olympics, Art approached UCL’s student business advisor Lillian Shapiro for support. She helped them approach UCL Advances, UCL’s centre for entrepreneurship, for additional advice including writing a comprehensive business plan to capitalise on the innovative technology.
Through Lillian, Art also applied for a UCL Bright Ideas Award, established by UCL Advances in 2008 to bridge the gap many new companies face when they have a great idea but are searching for their first funding, and are not yet ready for venture capital investment.
It was through this scheme that Art and Kiryl won a £7500 low-interest loan, which they have used to maintain their exclusive licence on the bike-ad technology, to invest in manufacturing technology and in buying more systems.
“Art and Kiryl’s success at getting into the Den is fantastic – and just one of a flurry of successful companies we are nurturing right now,” says Professor Stephen Caddick, VP enterprise at UCL. “Our other Bright Ideas Awards winners are going from strength to strength, too.”
“Supporting entrepreneurs is at the heart of what we do at UCL Enterprise and these Awards provide a fantastic financial kick-start to promising businesses across different sectors. But much more than that, they are a vote of confidence which helps propel these budding entrepreneurs to the next level – including pitching to the Dragons.”