One year on from Tata Varisty Pitch 2019, how are our finalists?

How they’ve grown and adapted to overcome Covid-19

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The Tata Varsity Pitch 2020, as powered by NACUE is right around the corner with applications opening on the 3rd June. To help aid your own applications, or inspire you to do so if you’re as of yet unsure, we approached Varisity Pitch Alumni to ask how the competition has shaped their businesses.

As a finalist of our competition, we’d like to find out what has happened to you since the competition — the good, the bad and the ugly.

The BioFactory, Founder Eoin Sharkey

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Since last year’s competition, The BioFactory has grown from just one employee, to five. They’ve successfully raised private equity investment to match an InovateUK grant saying “we’ve found the right investors that will provide more than just cash”. Because of this funding, The BioFactory have been able to lanch their development phase, this will enable them to commercialise, starting to manufacture and distribute at scale.

How do you demonstrate resilience in the ongoing pandemic crisis?

“Virtual working has been a core part of the business since we started, so it hasn’t affected our way of working yet. Due to the way the funds work from IUK we’ve got to stick to a schedule that spans 24 months, and so our activities aren’t too heavily affected. We can do most of the activities for the first 6 months virtually, and hopefully by then things will have returned somewhat to normal.”

How would you describe your experience of the Tata Varsity Pitch competition and NACUE’s support?

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“The competition and ongoing support has been really great. The specialist and bespoke advice we received in the bootcamp has been integrated into our business model with great success. We have been able to utilise the NACUE network to promote our recruitment efforts into the company, and have found some very capable candidates.”

“The workshop with the D Group was really useful, and there where lots of skills that I used there, that I have never had the opportunity to practice before, such as negotiating.”

Motics, Founder Harvinder Power

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Since #VP2019, Motics are now developing their software offering, with their apps now available on the App store.

“Our timeline has changed to adapt to the restrictions imposed, and opportunities granted by COVID-19, with our hardware offering coming later this year. We’re bringing in more physiotherapists every week, and garnering some great feedback which we’re acting quickly on. We’re starting to push the boundary of remote physiotherapy monitoring using your mobile phone by using all the sensors your phone contains to help track your activity.”

How do you demonstrate resilience in the ongoing pandemic crisis?

“Resilience is definitely important in these challenging times, and it is often important to remember the reason for which we started the company, to solve a fundamental problem with physiotherapy which we’ve all had in the past. Our experience of the Varsity Pitch was incredibly positive, with a wealth of valuable feedback which helped us to pinpoint our offering, and to take us to the next level.”

What advice would you give to people applying for Tata #VP2020?

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“For the future Varsity Pitch finalists, I’d recommend making the most of the experience, including the mentors and judges that are there to support you. They’ve seen an incredible number of startups come through, and have a lot to offer.

The highlight of the whole experience has to be meeting the other entrepreneurs who often face similar challenges in their work, helping to foster a sense of community and shared resilience.”

Plastech Innovation, Co-Founder Natasha Boulding

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One year on from the Tata Varisty Pitch Competition, Plastech Innovation are still going strong as they’re about to close their first investment round and file for a patent. With this investment they are seeking to move into a bigger facility and move closer to ocmmercialisation.

How do you demonstrate resilience in the ongoing pandemic crisis?

“We have put a lot of effort into desk/computer work. Completing all the jobs that get pushed to the bottom of the ‘to do’ list!”

How would you describe your experience of the Tata Varsity Pitch competition and NACUE’s support?

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“Exciting, inspiring and informative! We really enjoyed the final and the training was great leading up to the final, especially negotiation training. It was definitely a weakness and the training threw you completely out of your comfort zone for maximum learning! For future finalists I would say enjoy the experience, meet inspiring people and be confident!

Spyras, Founder George Winfield

Since #VP2019 the Spyras team has now grown to 5 and has its first office in Brixton! Our current stage is that we are in early beta testing with users and now developing our scaling operation to get a market ready product in place for 2021. The £310K InnovateUK grant started successfully in January supported by Baxter and has given Spyras a great boost in what has been a difficult period for most. Spyras has received attractive investment offers from the US but we have been able to generate significant revenue with businesses testing our technology and therefore we have decided to delay investment due to the traction so far. We feel this is a tremendous achievement by the team, to do this without any outside investment to date. We have also been awarded another £50K grant to develop a COVID sensor — so watch this space!

How do you demonstrate resilience in the ongoing pandemic crisis?

“With Spyras being a respiratory based start-up, this pandemic has been an interesting one for us to follow. In order to keep projects on task and ensure everyone was safe and well, Spyras implemented a work from home policy before any official lockdown and broke the office apart according to what everyone needed, with 3D printers in Connie’s front room to soldering irons and PCB components in Francesco’s bedroom! Being flexible and bringing revenue into the business in order to sustain our growth, has been critical. We are pleased to have weathered the storm so far alongside our early customers.”

What advice would you give to future Tata Varsity Pitch Finalists?

“You have to answer the “what if?” question. Nobody can ever take that away from you.”

Looking back, what has been the stand out highlight for you over this entire process and why?

“Looking back, I was always drawn to the day at the The D Group by Seamus Kerr CBE and Ed Arnold. Hearing stories from ex-military personnel on negotiation tactics and on to the art of networking, was a fascinating day and the takeaways have definitely been put to use in Spyras which is maybe a reason we were able to close some of our first deals!”

Totawell, Co-Founder Imon Pal, Online Peoples’ Vote Winners

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A year has flown by for Totawell, the Tata Varsity Pitch #VP2019 Online Peoples’ Vote Winners whom recieved 7500 votes, the highest in the competitions history.

How do you demonstrate resilience in the ongoing pandemic crisis?

“The current global situation is one that none of us could have anticipated. It has effected many businesses, including us. However, we stand strong and being a mental well-being startup, we are trying to help people who need support in this tumultuous times. We have also ventured into mental health research where we are looking into the psychological effects of mental health on people and professionals effected by the pandemic.”

How would you describe your experience of the Tata Varsity Pitch competition and NACUE’s support?

“The boot-camp and pitch training were crucial for refining our business plan. It was also one of the best opportunities to meet investors, entrepreneurs and make new friends. Our advice to future finalist is to believe in themselves and trust that hard work pays off. We wish them great success in their ventures.”

Cosi Care, Founder Lauren Bell, Winner of Tata Varisty Pitch Competition 2019

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It’s been a very busy year for Cosi Care, Lauren Bell has been refining the product and preparing for production. After refining the brand and mission, Cosi Care are excited to announce they will be launching their product later this year!

Launching will enable Cosi Care to recieve customer feedback, build their community, and exhibit at the Allergy and Freefrom show again. Cosi Care’s mission of improving the quality of life for those suffering with skin disease has remained strong and the core purpose of Cosi Care. Having spent time creating new product ideas, Lauren is keep to expand Cosi Care’s product range “to be able to really launch with a bang”!

Where are you currently with your startup?

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“I am really happy with the design of our hero product after a long process of product development and research. I will soon be moving into production and being able to provide a solution to our customers is something very exciting. It’s now time to put a lot of work and strategy into our marketing and our launch plan. TATA have even offered to help with a launch party held at their offices, which is incredibly generous. It’s just an example of how this competition has helped and supported me.”

How do you demonstrate resilience and navigate your startup in the last weeks?

“This is a great question! I think every business, no matter how small or new, has faced big challenges during this period. We have all had to be flexible, adaptable and show courage in these scary times. For Cosi Care, it’s been no different. I have faced a pause with our production that’s effected our launch, and I now am working hard to mitigate the delay and push forward as best I can. I demonstrate resilience by being able to adapt as quickly as possible, be creative with my problem-solving ability and really reaching out to my network for support and guidance. I think this period of change has also given me time to think carefully about how I build a sustainable business that can really survive through turbulent times.”

How would you describe your experience of the Tata Varsity Pitch competition and NACUE’s support?

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“It was a really great experience. It was a chance to expand my network and I have really enjoyed connecting with NACUE and TATA following the competition at other events and meeting. It’s definitely more than winning money, it’s the support and mentors you get out of it, that’s the true value.”

What advice would you give to future Tata Varsity Pitch Finalists?

“Firstly, I would say congratulations! It’s very competitive and you need to feel confident in communicating your idea, so it’s a great achievement to get to the finals. The advice I would give, is to really think about how you communicate your business idea and how to tell your story. People (the judges included) empathise and can engage with you if you tell your personal story in your pitch, and relate to why you do what you do as oppose to just what you are doing. I would focus on the core concept of your business, and explain in a clear concise way, remember that a lot of people would have never heard about you or your business… so try to keep it simple! I would also say, think of interesting ways to differentiate yourself. If you have a product to show, a fun way of demonstrating your idea, go for it!”

Looking back, what’s the stand out highlight been for you over this entire process and why?

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“The main stand out for me is the final pitching round, where we all got a chance to really pitch our idea in front of an audience. I had my family there too from Swansea so that was really special for them to be able to be a part of it. When Cosi Care won, it was a really exciting thing and it gave me a lot of confidence to continue with what I am aiming to achieve. Another highlight is everything that’s happened after the competition, being able to engage with NACUE and TATA for support, that’s really valuable, especially as a sole founder.”

Applications are now open for the Tata Varisty Pitch Competition 2020, as powered by NACUE . You can find all the information on the NACUE website here, including how to make your 60-second elevator pitch the best it can be!

Written by Abigail Howard for NACUE

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