There were 50 candidates, 15 semi-finalists and five finalists in a community-based project to find the Solent region’s first-ever ‘newtrepreneur’.
Now the winner of £50,000 worth of products and services - and a runner-up by the narrowest of margins - can be revealed following the finale of the inaugural Young Start-up Talent (YST) Solent 2016.
The competition attracted some of the best commercial ideas around by 16 to 25-year-olds who wanted to run their own ventures.
Oxford Innovation, an UKSPA member which provides support and office space for high-growth businesses and start-ups, was principal sponsor.
Entrepreneurial vision focused on telecoms, wearable technology, a barber with a modern take, a digital medical management tool and an online meeting place for groups, clubs and societies across Great Britain.
Such was the calibre of entries, judges took the unusual step of selecting two newtreprenuers to benefit from the prize of £50,000 worth of business support led by Oxford Innovation.
The finalists, having first been whittled down to face a Dragons’ Den-style panel of judging in September, were Calvin Macleod (virtual technology), Casper Dijurhuus Nielson (telecoms), John Weal (online), Harry Phelan (barbers) and Ming Wu (fashionable wearable technologies).
There, they had to show proof of concept, backed by hard-nosed business plans where any weaknesses were soon exposed.
Then the showcase finale, attended by upwards of 100 people at the Novotel Southampton. They included candidates and their families, universities and sixth-form college representatives, sponsors, the judging panel, ecosystem partners, managers at Oxford Innovation’s South Coast centres and the YST team.
Chris Allington, the managing director of Oxford Innovation, which runs Ocean Village Innovation Centre in Southampton, Fareham Innovation Centre at Lee-on-the-Solent and Portsmouth Technopole, praised YST.
He said afterwards: “The Hampshire and Isle of Wight area needed a region-wide young entrepreneur programme and YST Solent, by doing that, has exceeded all our expectations.
“It was great to have more than 50 submissions in just four months, including a number from the Isle of Wight and from the regional universities. The scheme showed how our region is brimming with newtrepreneurs who are taking innovation to new levels.
“Indeed, the biggest mistake the business community can do is underestimate the drive, initiative, intelligence and can-do attitude of so many of our youngsters. They are our future and we, as business leaders here in the Solent region, need to do far more by giving them a chance in our workplaces.”
From fashionable wearable technology to a modern take on the traditional barber shop, the five candidates at the finale provided insights into how they could make their service or product a winner with consumers.
Harry Phelan of Studio H was unveiled as the winner. Harry’s barber shop, specialising in unique cutting styles, was a grade above because of a viable business plan which includes job-creating expansion through the hiring of apprentices and online reservations.
Oxford Innovation will provide Harry with a virtual office for 12 months, with mail and phone support, plus 10 hours of coaching and mentoring support by Richard May, Oxford Innovation’s Innovation Director for the South Coast.
Harry, from Horndean near Portsmouth, said of the win: “I’m genuinely shocked. Although I put in a lot of effort to get here, I didn’t think I would win. I was just so nervous!”
Harry now plans to use the prize fund to help expand and grow his business – and much faster than he could have achieved without YST.
Studio H will now be able to move from a room in his parent’s home, into his own barber shop, as well as take on a number of apprentices from the local area, allowing Harry to train them on the job and teach them the special techniques that makes Studio H distinctive and individual.
John Wheal of the Group Hub was the highly-commended runner-up for his product, which involves placing the meetings and messages of groups, clubs and societies in one online space so there is no risk of miscommunication.
As there was little to chose between John and Harry, Oxford Innovation is to provide a John with a virtual office for 12 months at Portsmouth Technopole and five hours of coaching and mentoring support by Richard.
Richard said: “Our focus here at Oxford Innovation will be to help Studio H and Group Hub succeed, grow, innovate and be agile – this is about unlocking the full potential of these two inspirational start-ups.”
The £50,000 worth of vital business support also includes accounting, legal work, training, branding, signage, website, printing and publicity.
As well as Oxford Innovation, sponsors were Novotel Southampton, Verisona Law, Creative Pod, Wilkins Kennedy, Splash Display, Media Word Waves, All Star Marketing, Social Marley, The News, NatWest, Little Kanga Consulting and three centres operated by Oxford Innovation - Fareham Innovation Centre, Portsmouth Technopole and Ocean Village Innovation Centre.
Award-winning Ben Towers, who was 11 when he had his first paid job - designing a website for an author - attended. He runs a digital media agency with 15 staff. Ben, now 17, was listed No.1 in The Times Magazine's Superteen Power List in December and named as one of Virgin's Top 5 young entrepreneurs for last year.
YST Solent was officially launched back in January at Portsmouth Technopole, which is run by Oxford Innovation on behalf of the University of Portsmouth.
Judges were Chris, Ben, Simon Finch, a relationship manager for NatWest, Michael Dyer, a director at Verisona Law, Zara Hogg, a partner at accountancy Wilkins Kennedy, and YST co-founders Lorraine Nugent, managing director of Media Word Waves, and Matt Turner, chief executive of The Creative Group.
Matt praised Oxford Innovation for its “hand-on” commitment to YST Solent, embracing every aspect of the project.
YST, a social enterprise founded in 2010 and now covering seven regions in the South East, has generated 52 successful start-ups to date.
Also supporting young enterprise, Oxford Innovation sponsored the University of Southampton Employability Excellence Awards earlier this month (October).
The skills award showed the qualities required to flex entrepreneurial muscle – a strong work ethic, initiative, resilience and a passion for personal development.