Winners put safety first in UWE's Business Plan Competition

Issue date: 06 May 2005


Issue date: 06/05/05

A lifesaving idea to detect potentially deadly gas leaks using low-cost sensor technology has won the top prize in the University of the West of England’s Business Plan Competition. The winning team, from UWE’s Faculty of Applied Sciences, was awarded the open prize worth £12,500 by the sponsors’ panel of judges. Also in the winning line-up was a plan to create a medical rapid response scheme in the Avon area, which won this year’s new social enterprise award.

Two student plans caught the judges’ attention and shared the student prize – one aims to set up a national directory of accredited tradespeople and the second offers animation workshops to young people.

Professor Norman Ratcliffe, of the winning team, said their plan for a device called AlarmGas would be an effective use of sensor technology that could save lives by the early detection of flammable gases. He continued:

“Winning the open award in this competition means that we are now able to take this technology further and look at other potential benefits and uses. These include detecting arson, diagnosing certain health conditions from a patient’s breath, and discovering traces of pesticides or mildew in food crops.”

Dave Brennand, of UWE’s Centre for Research, Innovation and Graduate Studies which runs the competition, said:

“This is the fourth time we have held the competition and each year it goes from strength to strength. This year we have introduced a new social enterprise award and are delighted that ARIES, a scheme that could save lives among members of the public involved in accidents or sudden serious illness has been helped by this competition.”

The social enterprise award, sponsored specifically by Triodos Bank, Bristol City Council and Business West, was presented by keynote speaker Carolyn Whitwell of the Bishopston Trading Company Ltd. Carolyn’s organisation, which she started on her own twenty years ago, now employs hundreds of weavers and tailors in Tamil Nadu, in India, and has raised tens of thousands of pounds to provide clean water, a school and other social benefits for its twinned village in India.

The safety theme continued with a prizewinning student plan for a national directory of accredited tradespeople, made up of small reputable building firms to help give peace of mind to people such as the elderly and those with limited building knowledge. Another student idea proved a winner – Aurelie Blard-Quintard of the Bristol School of Art Media and Design won the student prize with her plan for animation workshops for young people to help boost their creativity, team working abilities and confidence.

The open prize was presented by Torsten Reil of NaturalMotion Ltd, an animation company that has developed a way of exactly simulating animal or human motion, based on biomechanical principles and using artificial intelligence. The revolutionary technique is behind a current television ad where an actor appears to perform back-flips down the side of a skyscraper. Torsten – who was named as one of the world’s top innovators by the MIT Technology Review – said that his advice to the business plan entrepreneurs was to find mentors in their chosen market: most people were more than willing to offer help and information.

In all, the top prizes are worth £25,000, made up of cash, professional advice and mentoring, and a rent-free place in UWE’s city centre business incubator. All entrants benefit from workshops and advice on presenting their ideas, and networking with other budding entrepreneurs. The competition’s sponsors are UWE, Baker Tilly Chartered Accountants, Osborne Clarke solicitors, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Bristol City Council, Business West and Triodos Bank.

Jim Brown of Baker Tilly, speaking on behalf of the sponsors, praised the way that entrants had identified market niches and then addressed their plans and presentations to meet these needs.

Winning the UWE Business Plan Competition can be an important first step for staff or students with bright business ideas who are aiming to bring their products or services to the marketplace. Last year’s winner, LISTech, went on to become the 2004 Winner of Winners in a competition between UWE, the University of Bristol and the University of Bath to find the best overall idea from all three Universities’ individual business plan competitions.

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