Churchill College students took part in the inaugural ‘Churchill Ideas Mash’, an interdisciplinary real-world team problem-solving challenge! The three-day programme provided participants with the opportunity to collaborate and build business development skills through a combination of workshops and networking sessions, culminating in a pitching event with cash prizes of £2,000 on offer!

Participants could either bring their own business idea to work on or choose one from the ideas mash menu before forming themselves into teams and working with professional business mentors in preparation for the live pitching event. The ideas mash menu included a range of ideas proposed by both current students and external companies looking for innovative solutions to real-world problems. The cash prizes were generously supported by Churchill engineering alumnus Dr Hua Ye, Deputy Director of the Kunlun 2050 Research Institute.

The winning idea, defined as the pitch the judges felt to be the most innovative, impactful and likely to succeed was to be awarded £1,000 cash to develop their idea further. Additional £500 cash prizes were available for the team judged to have delivered the best pitch, and for the team which made best utilisation of team diversity.

After an impressive round of pitches, the Churchill Ideas Mash judges made their deliberations. The judges included; engineer Brian Mwanda, Founder and CEO of Hope Tech plus, winner of the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation and an innovation Fellowship Leader with the Royal Academy of Engineering, Dr Hua Ye and fellow Churchill engineering alumnus Rory Geeson.

The teams in contention included:

1. Design a cost-effective way to balance a high renewables and decarbonised power system

  • Proposer: Statera Energy
  • Team: Adolis Bagdziunas (UG Engineering), Tyler Martin (UG Engineering), Hannah Cox (UG NatSci) and Andy Hu (UG Engineering)

The UK is committed to decarbonising the power system, with a large transition to renewable energy generation imminent. However, renewable energy is often intermittent and constantly fluctuating – with the shortfall today often filled by carbon-emitting power sources. Alternative lower/no-carbon sources are available, but what is the best approach or combination to embracing and deploying these cost effectively? Suggest an approach to developing a power system that balances a high number of renewable generation sources to create a decarbonised power system, which is cost effective to energy users

2. Enhancing Fitness Accessibility for People with Disabilities

Access to fitness and recreational activities is a fundamental aspect of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. However, people with disabilities often encounter significant barriers when trying to engage in fitness activities such as gym workouts, park cycling, swimming, and more. These barriers range from physical accessibility issues to a lack of specialized knowledge among fitness trainers regarding how to effectively support individuals with various disabilities. Moreover, fitness applications and equipment are rarely designed with accessibility in mind, particularly failing to cater to the needs of visually impaired individuals. This not only limits their ability to participate in these activities but also affects their willingness to seek help due to a lack of understanding or awareness among other gym users. Develop an innovative solution that makes fitness more accessible for people with disabilities.

3. Student recycling

  • Proposer: Jensen Rocha (MPhil Engineering)
  • Team: Sam Agyapong (PhD Education), Xinyan Huang (PhD Land Economy), Papa Kwarteng (PhD NatSci) and Jensen Rocha (MPhil Engineering)

Devise a programme at Churchill to collect items that people can’t take out of the country and make available for students coming in.

4. AI for Accessibility

  • Proposer: Boyin Yang (PhD Engineering), Junlong Chen (PhD Engineering)
  • Team: Boyin Yang (PhD Engineering), Junlong Chen (PhD Engineering), Julie Wang (UG Psychological & Behavioural Sciences) and Janice Ma (UG Engineering)

Design a system or not-profit organisation to unite industry, academia, and charities to use AI to help people with accessibility requirements.

Award winners

The overall winner was ‘AI for Accessibility’ who pitched an idea proposed by Engineering PhD students Boyin Yang and Junlong Chen. Reflecting on their win, Boyin commented, “the Churchill Ideas Mash provides an excellent opportunity to meet amazing people and polish our business model of running a tech social enterprise to help people with accessibility needs. This three-day event pushes us forward to think about how to make our ideas come true in the future. The £1,000 prize money will be used as our startup funding to create and maintain our open-source platform, aiming to engage more people in assistive tech research and improve our first assistive product.”

The £500 prize for the “best pitch” went to ‘Enhancing Accessibility for People with Disabilities’ and the £500 “Best Utilisation of Team Diversity” prize was shared between ‘Student Recycling’ and ‘Design a cost-effective way to balance a high renewables and decarbonised power system’. The Team Diversity award recognised the application of a diversity of skills and inter-disciplinary working among the team.

All participants agreed on the value of the programme, including English Literature undergraduate Mia Fenocchi, who had originally decided to join the Ideas Mash for a chance to think beyond her current academic studies.

I hadn’t really thought about enterprise or business or anything to do with my future beyond academics so I thought this would be a really good opportunity to start thinking that way. What I’ve enjoyed most is getting to work with the team – everyone’s so diverse in their approach to problem solving, bringing different expertise and it’s been really fulfilling to work in this way.

There was also praise for the programme from those attending the pitching event, including Imogen Sheppard, Junior Asset Manager for Statera Energy:

I think that being a student what you don’t get is a lot of real-world commercial experience, so something like this, where you practice pitching an idea, might encourage some people to consider that they want to take business ideas forwards and to meet like-minded people they might otherwise not have interacted with as much – I just think it’s invaluable.

The evening concluded with networking drinks.

Many thanks to all alumni who supported in judging, mentoring and Malcolm Brinded for giving a talk on experiences working with early-stage start-ups, and Rachel Thorley, the Community, Outreach and Recruitment in Engineering (CORE) Fellow, who organised the competition!