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The UK’s hottest graduate start-ups need you. Could you make the difference to their success?

The UK’s hottest graduate start-ups need you. Could you make the difference to their success?

Siobain Hone, Chair of SETsquared’s Student Enterprise Practice Group  explains why support in the early days is so essential, and how a raft of graduate start up talent are ready to take the next step at the SETsquared Graduate Acceleration Showcase on 26 June.

More and more graduates are choosing entrepreneurship as a career and starting their own businesses on leaving university rather than seeking employment. A trend observed by the Higher Education Policy as being triggered by a combination of factors, from economic uncertainty, to the growth of ecommerce and ‘digital nomadism’.

But the success of these start-ups long term often comes down to the level and quality of support they have access to in the early days. Access to vital information, contacts and support across a range of business issues is mission critical to these budding entrepreneurs.

This year marks SETsquared’s first Graduate Acceleration Showcase and builds on our 17-year history of running successful Investment Showcases. At the event, investors, mentors, experienced entrepreneurs, incubation managers and many other invited guests will get early access to some of the hottest new start-ups in the South of England. The companies are all recent graduates from five research-intensive universities (Bath, Bristol, Exeter, Southampton and Surrey) with proven track records for enterprise.

We’ve taken a detailed look at four of the companies taking part and how the support they have received so far has impacted their businesses.

Compact Cane Ltd Nia Simpson founder of Compact Cane

Founded by Nia Simpson, who graduated from the University of Bath with a MEng (Hons) in Mechanical Engineering in 2018. Nia’s start-up has designed a discreet, electronic ‘white cane’ device for blind people. Powered by an embedded system of proximity sensors and vibration motors, a blind person can use Compact Cane to detect and avoid obstacles, imitating the white cane. Compact Cane can empower blind people with more control over their identity in society, addressing the stigma around the white cane.

“I wanted to ensure I had a clear vision of where I’m heading on this business journey, to help shape my future decisions and motivate me when I face challenges. So, I discussed my aspirations and developed my business plans with trusted businesspeople.

“With help from mentors and advisors at SETsquared, I’ve been able define a series of work packages towards a beta prototype of Compact Cane. Now I’m seeking funding (approx. £15 – £60k in the form of grants, competitions and/or accelerators) and expertise to get help get me there by early 2020. I’m very grateful to have been chosen for the awesome opportunity to take part in the Graduate Acceleration Showcase to promote my business and ask for expertise and money towards R&D acceleration.”

The BiofactoryEoin Sharkey, The Biofactory

Founded by Eoin Sharkey, who graduated from the University of Bath with a Meng (Hons) in Mechanical Engineering in 2018.  Eoin’s start up ‘The BioFactory’ has designed an all-in-one latrine and waste processing plant that utilises biodigestion to convert human waste into cooking fuel and soil conditioner.

“Help and support has been critical to me in getting this far. I have made use of the Bath Innovation Centre space available to me through meetings with the Entrepreneur in Residence and mentors who have been able to give me more advice about how to build the company image and story.”

“I’m very excited about taking part in the Graduate Acceleration Showcase – getting to this stage has been great so far, and through the first rounds I have had lots of positive feedback for my pitches. This will help me finesse my pitch for the next rounds, and hopefully help me secure that all important investment I need for our development phase later this year. “

IntroMax and Tom, the Intro team
Founded by Exeter and Southampton graduates, Max Beech and Tom Phipps, Intro changes how businesses with a physical presence understand and engage with their customers. They provide wireless beacons which monitor people’s movements within a space and can send out contextually relevant information to customers via their GDPR-compliant app. It uses a blend of cutting-edge technology – ultrasonic sound, Bluetooth Classic, Bluetooth Low Energy and Wi-Fi  – meaning that it will work anywhere. Max and Tom formed Intro at SETsquared’s 3 Day Start-Up event.

“The 3 Day Start-Up event workshop gave us the motivation to take ourselves seriously. We learned how to develop a business strategy, build an early mock-up of what the product could look like, and plan the next steps of our endeavour,” says Max.

“We now have a fully working product, with several successful funding rounds have so far raised nearly £40,000 – thanks to the University of Southampton Web Science Institute’s Z-21 Innovation Fund and the university’s SEED Funding Programme. This early support has been vital, without it we would not have been able to launch the Intro app so quickly. The Graduate Acceleration Showcase will provide us with another important platform to connect with investors, potential mentors and hopefully others that will provide pivotal advice and support.”

Lyster SurfcraftDuncan Lyster

Duncan Lyster’s passion for surfing and carpentry, together with his knowledge of the short lifetime and unethical production of surfboards, fuelled his desire to start crafting wooden surfboards. He wanted to produce a new generation surfboard that was cheaper to make and buy and that would last. His hollow wooden boards eclipse their polyester counterparts, which, whilst looking the part, have a thick layer of petrochemical dust and glass fibre surrounding surfers’ feet – and usually only have short lifespan, which means the boards are discarded alongside the rest of plastic waste.

Duncan has been supported by the Student Enterprise team at the University in Exeter. He has received various grants, including the Graduate Entrepreneur’s Maintenance Grant which has helped with R&D and enabled him to work on the business full-time after his studies. He currently works independently on the business, but with the help of investment he aims to invest heavily into manufacturing and get some employees on board to assist him. He also aims to invest in marketing, scaling-up the business and approaching large retailers who could stock his unique surfboard.


Are you seeking exciting investment opportunities? Can you offer your expertise to help fledgling businesses like these? Are you looking for hot prospects to take part in your accelerator programme?

If so, register now to attend the Graduate Acceleration Showcase.


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