The Enterprising Ideas Business Planning Competition (fondly known as the ‘BPC’) is run annually by the University of Sheffield Enterprise, and pits entrepreneurial students against one another in a battle of the business plan with the hope of winning a grand prize of £2,000. Previous winners include Steve Pugh of UniPhotos.co.uk, and Jennifer Ashton with Kolours, a hairdressing business; both have gone on to success, using their prize to improve both their professional skills and to develop their concepts.
As the celebratory afternoon wine flowed and canapes were spread about the congregation, the 13 finalists – seven in the commercial category and six social – showcased their ideas at individual stalls, networked with other participants, entrepreneurs, and USE staff, and ultimately pitched their businesses to a panel of judges.
Two winners from each category were determined by judges, with the audience also having the chance to vote and nominate their favourites. Mark Musgrave’s Dece Inspired Clothing UK won both the judge and audience vote for the social innovation category, and George Bettany and James Routeledge’s pitch for ‘Matchchat’ secured their popularity with the audience.
Among the remaining contestants was final year Philosophy and Psychology student, Edward Miller. With IWasThere360, an innovative social media marketing tool offering interactive, 360-degree virtual tours which users may tag, share, and interact with, Ed pitched against other hopefuls for the opportunity to win £2,000, as well as a leap towards developing his ideas.
“I’d been thinking for some time about how to have a career in photography seeing as there are thousands of brilliant photographers out there, all competing for the same work,” says Ed. “Sometimes it can be easier to stand out where there is a lot of competition, simply by doing something different from the crowd. Pushing the interactive side of photography seemed to really make sense.”
The judges certainly seemed to agree. The originality and potential of IWasThere360 as a truly innovative and interactive marketing tool made Ed really stand out in the commercial enterprise category, and he secured the vote of the judges and the rather substantial grand prize.
Previously working as a freelance photographer whilst studying for his degree, IWasThere360 is just the next step in Ed’s journey towards his goals, as he incorporates photography with his ambition to work in advertising.
“I’ve always been interested in advertising and chose my course after ringing up creative directors at London advertising agencies, and asking what I should do if I want work as a ‘creative’ in an advertising agency.
“I knew I wanted to work in advertising, the question was just how to get there. I was keen to keep pushing my photography further so learnt how to build my own website to showcase my work in my second year, which helped to bring in small photography jobs. I shot for local magazines and Forge Press, but there were a lot of images that I wanted to shoot for myself.”
Despite having received no formal training in photography, Ed’s experience, portfolio, and website are all extremely impressive. After having received his first camera as a gift on his eighteenth birthday, Ed took an interest in photography and began to develop it as a hobby whilst studying for his degree.
Joining the Photography Society at university gave him the support and inspiration to continue shooting and to work on his skills, as well as the opportunities to shoot and develop his ideas.
With the amount of strong competition in the field of professional photography, creativity, innovation and hard work are essential to make an individual mark and attract attention. Ed’s freelance shoots certainly reflect this, with an atmospheric William Tell inspired shoot in the Peak District, complete with smoke machine, standing out in particular.
Alongside his freelance work and photography for Forge Press, Ed has also worked closely with S1 Magazine – a student run magazine led by University of Sheffield masters student River Tamoor Baig – as the director of photography.
It is his own projects, however, that are really beginning to reap the rewards; IWasThere360 has already achieved one success, and looks to secure even more.
“If you’re already passionate about something, it makes perfect sense to look into starting your own business as you could end up finding a way to make a living doing the thing that you love, in a way that you might not have considered before,” says Ed, when asked about his experiences striking out on his own.
“I think help is out there for people looking to start up a business. I also think that it is important that people aren’t pushed into it; it’s not for everybody and it demands that people are able to take the initiative in the first place, rather than being pushed into it by others.
“The Enterprise Zone at the University is a fantastic resource to use and there are various different Student Enterprise conferences around which are good for meeting other young people trying to establish themselves. Another good way to build up the skills needed for starting a business is to get involved with some of the projects Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) run. I also know Sheffield has just started its own enterprise society, so there are plenty of ways to get involved.”
There are huge amounts of support available throughout the University, from formal advice and funding available in the University of Sheffield Enterprise Zone, to the help available through societies such as SIFE and Sheffield Entrepreneurs.
SIFE, a social enterprise focused nationwide organisation, gives students the opportunity to manage and participate in projects that not only build fantastic experience but benefit society and disadvantaged groups. One project that has run this year is City Hearts, a scheme which supports sex-trafficked women in the making and selling of jewellery. The jewellery is currently available for purchase in Our Sheffield, with proceeds returning to the women involved in the scheme.
On the commercial side, Sheffield Entrepreneurs aims to support entrepreneurial students and organise events and projects to help with the development of their ideas. River Tamoor Baig, director of S1 Magazine, has been heavily involved in the conceptualisation, creation, and development of the society:
“Sheffield Entrepreneurs brings together students from various backgrounds and disciplines in order to inform, educate and inspire them into becoming global entrepreneurs and business leaders,” says River, of the support he hopes the society will offer.
“It aims to provide students with a wealth of information, fortnightly entrepreneurial challenges, whilst also inviting successful entrepreneurs and business leaders to give talks and facilitate skill building sessions.”
In terms of his own experiences in the BPC, and the support of the University, Ed is extremely positive: “Everybody at the Enterprise Zone has been absolutely fantastic. The competition has really helped concentrate my ideas and the prize money will be put to good use, putting it straight back into the business.”
The BPC, however, is just the start. Recently, Ed was invited to shoot the very first gigapixel panorama, consisting of over 3,000 megapixels (that’s a staggering 300 times the output of your standard digital camera), from the top of the BT Tower. He has also visited London for talks with the director of creative production at the BBC and will soon return for a meeting with a representative of VISA.
Currently, he is working inside the Olympic Park on the project ‘London Prepares 360’, which will allow users to take an interactive tour around the various Park venues as part of the London 2012 Olympic events and preparation.
“I have a few things up my sleeves for the future but at the moment, my main concentration is trying to push out the work I have been doing inside the Olympic Park,” Ed says, of the future. “It’s all really exciting stuff but I’m trying to keep my feet on the ground whilst also finding the time to finish my exams.
“Once I finish my course, I’ll have the time to set up a company formally rather than working as a sole trader, and I’ll start to think about maybe taking on staff to help make the company grow.”
At the time of year when exams, essays, and revision become all-consuming for the majority of the student body, it is inspiring to see someone make something happen for themselves that is so detached from university.
With the success of the BPC, and the projects Ed has ahead of him, it seems evident that motivation, creativity, and support are invaluable on the road to success – even if the degree you study might not be that closely related to your ambitions. Perhaps university, numbers, and grades aren’t quite the be all and end all.