Darren Tenkorang has been named the University of Sussex Student Entrepreneur of the Year in the annual StartUp Sussex enterprise competition, which is run by Sussex Innovation on behalf of the University. The six-month programme reached its climax last week, with the announcement of the three winning teams who will receive grants to help further develop their businesses. The winners were revealed at an award ceremony held at the Sussex Innovation Centre and attended by members of the local business community, University staff and fellow students.

The teams presented their business plans in a pitch last week to the StartUp Sussex judges, a ‘Dragons’ Den’-style panel consisting of local investors, entrepreneurs and representatives from the University. The panel were extremely impressed with the high standard of the pitches, and after much deliberation awarded first prize to 4th year Business & Management student Darren Tenkorang and his team for their app, TRIM-IT.

As well as earning the title of Sussex’s Student Entrepreneur of the Year, Darren and his team received £10,000 to spend on business support services as they continue to develop and launch their product. TRIM-IT aims to revolutionise the barbering industry by helping barbers to manage appointments and promotions, reducing waiting times for their customers.

“It’s amazing to have won, and the support TRIM-IT has been getting is truly moving,” said Darren. “We’ve been swamped with kind messages and words of encouragement. Taking part in StartUp Sussex has helped us to tailor the idea to what the market wants. We’ve interviewed hundreds of potential customers, and now we know that we’re building something our users and barbers really want.

“The majority of the money will go towards promoting the app and getting that initial traction we need – we’ve built a team of ten people, and we’re all really excited for what’s coming next!”

In second place, MSc Business Management & Entrepreneurship student Laurence Stevens received £5,000 for his product Vanguard – a compression suit which can be adapted with weights, padding and hot or cold gel packs, designed to enhance training and recovery regimes for players of high-impact sports.

“I’m over the moon to have been selected as one of the winners,” said Laurence. “The programme has taught me about the practical needs of a start-up business, and I feel like it has equipped me with the skills to develop Vanguard and any ideas I have in the future. I plan to spend the money on further product development, as well as intellectual property protection.”

In third place, MA Participation, Power & Social Change student Simone Riddle received £2,500 for her web platform Global Food Connections – an interactive recipe platform intended to help western consumers discover global recipes and ethically-sourced food products.

“StartUp Sussex gave me the skills, tools and confidence to turn a vague idea into a viable business,” said Simone. “The experience has been invaluable – it was a real confidence boost to win, and showed me what’s possible when you put your mind to it!

“With the competition money I hope to begin building the online platform, prepare for the pilot project and invest in more business and marketing support from the Sussex Innovation team to make sure I have the best start possible for launching my social enterprise.”

In recognition of their hard work, the quality of their proposals and the commitment they have shown to the StartUp Sussex programme, the three remaining finalists will each receive 10 hours of business support from the Sussex Innovation Centre free of charge, to continue building the momentum around their fledgling business ideas.

This was the fourth StartUp Sussex competition, and the third year in its current format, which sees business mentors from the Sussex Innovation Centre deliver a series of workshops for over 50 students and recent graduates during the Autumn term.

Over eight weeks the candidates learned how to evaluate business opportunities, perform market research and understand their customers, and the basics of finance and operational budgeting, creating a functional business model from an initial idea.

In December, 20 teams submitted their ideas, of whom the six finalists were selected to progress to the second phase of the competition. The six teams then began an intensive eight-week programme based at the Sussex Innovation Centre, helping them to shape a business plan.