Churchill entrepreneurs of the future

3rd June 2019

The final of this year’s Churchill College Enterprise Competition took place on Monday 29 April. The competition was generously supported by headline sponsor, the Federation of Shenzhen Commerce (FSC) with additional prizes sponsored by Cambridge based companies Cyberhive and ideaSpace.

Capturing the spirit of Churchill’s intent to produce the leaders of the future, the Churchill College Enterprise competition seeks to identify and nurture the best business ideas of current Churchill students and alumni. Open to teams or individuals with an innovative service of product they would like to develop; the competition awards the winning entry £1,000 to develop their ideas further together with experienced business mentoring from the panel of judges (drawn from Churchill alumni) and free part-time membership of ideaSpace for a year.

This year there was also a £250 prize for the ‘Most Innovative Technology’, awarded by supporting sponsor Cyberhive. All eight competition finalists also received one-to-one mentoring support for the duration of the competition, together with the potential to access ongoing “in-kind” investment (advice, networking and mentoring) by panel members, depending on the quality and nature of their entry.

This year’s eight finalists were each allocated a mentor drawn from Churchill alumni and given four weeks to prepare their final 20 minute presentation pitches to an expert judging panel made up of five experienced, entrepreneurial alumni including chair Simon Jones (U85), Nigel Bacon (U74), Paul Czekalowski (U88), Philip Hilton (U67), Valerie Jolliffe (U73) and Alan Platt (U93). 

The teams pitched a variety of creative business ideas from publishing and proofreading to inventive digital biomarkers and the harnessing of virtual reality to deliver Autism intervention services. Enterprise Chair and panel judge Simon Jones (U85) reflected on the high quality of ideas submitted;

“It was utterly fabulous to see entrepreneurialism and innovation alive and kicking in our corridors of academia. Definitely some really exciting business opportunities in the mix here that we have high expectations for.”

Another panel judge, Alan Platt (U93), whose company Cyberhive sponsored the ‘Most Innovative Prize’ award explained why the competition was so valuable;

“Encouraging the Cambridge tradition of innovation is critical to the future success of the city and the region. The Churchill Enterprise Competition is an important way to find and nurture the entrepreneurs of the future at an early stage in their start-up journey.”

The team that won the main prize was AUVR (Autism Interventions using Virtual Reality), led by current Churchill student Bang Ming Yong (G15), his brother Bang Xiang Yong (G18) and fellow Cambridge students Muhamad Kaiser and Tianheng Zhao. Their idea, to improve the delivery of Autism interventions through the use of smart and reconfigurable software using commercially available high-end virtual reality (VR) headsets, had the ultimate aim of reducing contact hours with specialists and potentially allowing for interventions to be administered in the comfort of their own homes for autistic children showing progress. It was particularly exciting that the team leader Bang Ming Yong (G15) first pitched his idea at last year’s Churchill ‘Pitch to win’ competition and won. Bang recalls that taking part in the earlier competition improved his pitching skill and gave him the confidence to pursue his idea further. He went on to assemble a team and worked to acquire the resources to validate his idea, and is in no doubt about the value of taking part:

"The Churchill Enterprise Competition was a wonderful opportunity to develop our business pitching skills. Having access to an experienced business mentor was really helpful to give us insights and prepare us for the pitch. Typically, early stage business ideas are always rough around the edges and require refining. To sharpen the idea, you need to pitch it to someone experienced to give you feedback. Ideally, you don't want the feedback for improvement to come when you are pitching for large sums of money, you would want it earlier. We know because we have a few real investment pitches coming up soon and the Churchill Enterprise Competition was timely in providing feedback to further improve our chances."

— Bang Ming Yong (G15)

The AUVR team is now excited for the future and busy gathering the necessary resources to start their venture, beginning with a number of upcoming business investment pitches to secure more funds. They are also keen to continue to validate their business idea because of their belief in the importance of using scalable technology to manufacture a better world.

The team that won the £250 ‘Most Innovative Technology’ prize sponsored by Cyberhive was team OSIRIS. The team comprised three Churchill postgraduates Arushi Agrawal (G18), Michael Denham (G18) Joseph Kannarkat (G18) and fellow Cambridge students Ankit Chadha, Simran Goyal and Ashwin Venkatesh. Team OSIRIS proposed a device benefiting patients suffering from Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) that was capable of frequently monitoring arterial compliance and alerting individuals to early changes, thereby preventing and limiting the number of drastic interventions such as surgery.

Arushi Agrawal (G18) and her team were delighted with the recognition they received through the prize and were motivated ‘to pursue entrepreneurship in the future – we all plan to pursue the idea we have put forward by OSIRIS and aim to continue similar pursuits regardless of the outcome’.

Team OSIRIS were also clear about the benefits of taking part in the competition and encouraged others to apply in future years!

"The Churchill Enterprise Competition was an opportunity for us to explore our interests in an important health problem that affects hundreds of thousands of people and develop a product to potentially combat this issue. However, we quickly learned that successfully creating a product is much more than just having an idea. It also takes skilful planning, technical expertise, business planning, networking and long-term thinking.

These are soft skills that the competition enabled us to recognise and nurture. We will definitely spread the word about the competition to our friends and colleagues. It has been a wonderful learning opportunity and chance for mentorship. It is a perfect way to assess an idea and its potential for long-term development. Most importantly, the competition enables individuals to discover if entrepreneurship is something they would be interested in as a career."

— Arushi Agrawal (G18)

The final word of thanks must go to our competition sponsors, most notably our headline sponsor the Federation of Shenzhen Commerce (FSC), without whose generous support the competition would not have been possible. The competition final was attended by Dr Li Peng from FSC UK who explained the motivation for FSCs involvement:

"Federation of Shenzhen Commerce is proud to be the sponsor of such an amazing competition supporting ideas and collaborations from such a great university. We see innovative ideas from education to health care, from technical innovation to creative innovation. The teams are engaging, the judging panels offer a wealth of experience and the events are perfectly organised. We look forward to meeting more entrepreneurial students next year."
— Dr Li Peng (FSC UK)

Thanks are also owed to the generosity of our supporting sponsors Cyberhive and ideaSpace.

More about our sponsors

If you have any questions about the competition, please contact Annabel Busher in the Alumni & Development office.

development@chu.cam.ac.uk

Enterprise Competition 2019

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