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London's universities say ‘OpenSME’ to new support for capital's small businesses

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.

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Team of budding UCL student entrepreneurs reach final of Santander Universities Entrepreneurship Awards

29 June 2012

Santander Universities

A team from UCL have reached the final of the Santander Universities Entrepreneurship awards.

The team – led by Alex Emms (Computer Science) – set up Thirstpass, a student discount card offering discounts at food and drink outlets, last year.

The team is one of five undergraduate teams – including competition from Royal Holloway, Loughborough, Stirling and Newcastle – who have been selected for the final based on the strength of their business plans, assessed by a panel of judges from Santander’s Business and Corporate Banking Divisions.

The awards, funded by the Santander Universities Global Division, aim to support and encourage university students to pursue their business ideas, and are open to students from all UK universities within the Santander Universities programme.

Alex – who has just completed his first year of a degree in computer science – and his team came up with the idea after he wondered how he could cut the cost of drinks and food on campus when he was running low on money one month.

Thirstpass launched with an initial run of 10,000 cards, printed using the team’s own money. They were distributed mainly to UCL students in a trial of the business, with 20 per cent off a range of drinks negotiated at different outlets around Bloomsbury, including Patisserie Valerie, Coffee Republic and Crussh.

To businesses the card offers advantages including free advertising on the website, a mobile app guiding people to their branches, and people prepared potentially to buy more products and creating new custom.

Following the popularity of the cards amongst students, Alex met with Lillian Shapiro, one of two Student Business Advisors at UCL Advances, the university’s centre for entrepreneurship, for advice on how to capitalise on Thirstpass’ initial success.  She suggested applying for a UCL Bright Ideas Award, which the team won – securing £12,000 in a loan from the university to take the business to the next level. The team are looking at a nationwide launch in September.

“It is fantastic to see Thirstpass be shortlisted for these Awards”, says Timothy Barnes, the Director of UCL Advances. “Having won a Bright Ideas Awad it has been really satisfying to walk around central London and see first-hand how many Thirstpass signs have now appeared in the windows of local businesses.

“They’ve demonstrated fantastic drive and commitment to their business, I’m proud of the support UCL Advances has given them and will be wishing them luck in the finals.”

“At Santander we have been particularly impressed by the quality of this year’s entries, and it’s been very difficult to choose just 10 plans among all the projects submitted”, says Stephen Brooks, Santander’s Head of Public Sector and Charities.

“It’s also been encouraging, however, to see the creativity, inventiveness and commercial acumen displayed by all participants. Entrepreneurial skills are much needed in the current economic environment and these students offer a great deal of hope for the future of the UK economy.”