An innovative company, which turns chicken feathers into insulation material, has won a prestigious prize for the best new UK business started by students.
Aeropowder, founded by former Imperial College students Elena Dieckmann and Ryan Robinson, clinched the top award in the annual Varsity Pitch competition on Tuesday.
The competition, run by NACUE, (the National Association of College and University Entrepreneurs), and sponsored by Tata Limited, recognizes the very best UK businesses launched by students and recent graduates from British colleges and universities.
The former students, and their company Aeropowder, have won £10,000 to fund their business along with sessions with a world-class mentor.
The company impressed judges with their technological innovation which transforms thousands of tonnes of waste feathers from the poultry industry into functional materials.
The end products, which include thermal insulation blocks and a wide range of other materials, are sustainable and biodegradable.
The contest, which is now in its seventh year, aims to celebrate and recognise the very best businesses formed by students or recent graduates from colleges and universities across Britain.
Aeropowder co-founder, Ryan Robinson said: “Winning the NACUE Varsity Pitch Competition is great because it shows that other people take our message about sustainability and reusing waste so seriously. There’s a lot of hard work left to do, but we are feeling proud to have achieved this win.
“We found the mentorship element of the Varsity Pitch process to be extremely valuable and the semi-finals were also really useful. We got a lot of important feedback that we took with us in our final pitch. Even that one day is going to help our business grow in the future.”
Ryan continued: “We hope that our win shows a commitment to a future of business that is about more than just profit. We hope that competitions like this today will help with a trickle down effect, so that larger corporates are influenced by a more sustainable business model, and will influence wider society as a whole.
“We’re looking to spend the £10,000 on scaling up our business. There are some key bits of machinery that will enable us to build full sized pieces on a small scale volume wise, which will allow us to approach the right customers and generate the right kind of interest.”
Judges praised Aeropowder for its innovative nature and the sustainability angle of the business, but said they were up against tough competition.
Judge Ashish Gangrade said: “It was a very challenging decision, we went into overtime when making a decision. I think all of the ideas are very strong and all of them have very big chances of success but we were attracted to Aeropowder because they are innovative, going after a large market and are very sustainable.”
Fellow judge Claire Burke added: “It’s a fantastic idea, really innovative with a strong, clear pitch. We really liked the sustainability angle and believe it is a business that has the potential to go really far.”
Holly Knower, Chief Executive Officer at NACUE said: “The finalists all had very good business ideas and the competition on the day was very tough. It was a difficult decision for the judges to make but they certainly picked a very worthy winner.
“The idea behind Aeropowder proves that we have some of the brightest business brains in the world which bodes well for the future.
“Their concept is innovative, sustainable and creates a useable end product which we could all be using in business or in our homes in years to come.”
Holly continued: “This competition becomes tougher every year and the number and quality of the entries continues to increase which proves the future looks strong for UK businesses.”
Dr David Landsman, OBE, Executive Director of Tata Limited, added: “This was another outstanding Varsity Pitch final, with a huge variety of impressive businesses, combining creative ideas, drive and attention to detail. Having seen the presentations, I can imagine all of them achieving success in the months and years to come.
“Congratulations to all, especially Aeropowder, but also to NACUE for delivering an excellent initiative which makes us at Tata proud to be a partner.”
Over 300 students and recent post-graduates entered the Varsity Pitch competition. They were whittled down to a shortlist of 30 by external judges from Tata Limited, Vidsy, Shell LiveWIRE, Seedrs, Toucan, Fish Climb Trees and Swisse Re.
After hearing a two-minute pitch from each of the shortlisted 30, judges then decided on six finalists, and another entrant was selected after winning a public vote.
The seven finalists took part in a day-long business boot camp with input from mentors and other business professionals before competing in the grand final.
The seven finalists battled it out in front of 130 entrepreneurs, investors, public figures before the winner was announced.
Also competing in the final were:
Double Dutch Ltd – Joyce de Haas and Raissa de Haas, two former University College London students developing innovative mixer combinations to accompany the UK’s ever growing choice of spirits.
RJam – Lister Rossel, a University of Westminster post-graduate student who founded RJam, a platform that connects and creates music within the 21st century.
Unique Insights – Jamie Rawsthorne and George Sanderson, graduates from The University of the West of England, Bristol, who have developed an online platform that identifies and prevents students from dropping out of University.
Bui Smoothies – Isatou Camara and Haddy Tambedou, two young entrepreneurs from the London Metropolitan University with their homemade smoothie company.
OneTest – post-graduate students from The University of Cambridge, John Cassidy, Emil Hewage, Evaline Tsai, Dr Harry Clifford and Nirmesh Patel, with a method of tracing therapy for a wide range of cancers.
TakeMeOut – Diana Florescu and Maxim Antoni, two University of Westminster graduates with an app which makes eating out easy.