From education to employment

One to watch – Sojo wins UK-wide university business pitching competition

The potential business success stories of tomorrow have been unveiled at the Santander X Entrepreneurship Awards 2021, a prestigious UK-wide entrepreneurial business pitching competition for students and recent graduates (@bancosantander).

Sojo, which is working to make the fashion industry circular by making clothing alterations and repairs mainstream, from King’s College London, has won the top prize of £50,000 of seed funding and £25,000 worth of additional business support.

Runner-up Deploy, which provides game-changing innovation in water management, from Imperial College London, receives £25,000 of seed funding and £25,000 worth of additional business support.

The winner and runner-up were selected from over 80 early stage start-ups from across the UK. All of them pitched their business ideas across quarter and semi-final heats and were whittled down to five finalists. The shortlist of five finalists then pitched their business ideas to a panel of esteemed judges at the event held at Wembley Stadium in London.

Alongside William Vereker, Chair, Santander UK, judges also included: Olympic Champion and entrepreneur, Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill; Yvonne Bajela, renowned entrepreneur and Founding Member and Principal of Impact X Capital Partners, a UK based venture capital firm investing in underrepresented entrepreneurs; Oliver Kent-Braham, co-founder of Marshmallow, a digital car insurance company, as well as a live and a virtual audience.  The event was hosted by Seema Jaswal, professional sports host and journalist.

At the event, which hosted student and graduate entrepreneurs from across the country, William Vereker, Santander UK’s Chair, stressed the importance of supporting entrepreneurial talent and said:

“At Santander we’re passionate about supporting entrepreneurship, particularly amongst young people, and even more so during an exceptionally tough time for many start-ups and small businesses. We were truly impressed by the commitment, talent and creative thinking presented this year and it’s fantastic to support the future generation of business leaders. Many congratulations to both the winning business Sojo and the runner-up business Deploy – we’re delighted you’ll receive funding and support to enable your businesses to scale. We look forward to seeing your businesses continue to grow and help create a more sustainable and prosperous world.”

Josephine Philips, Founder of Sojo said:

“To have won first prize at the Santander X Entrepreneurship Awards is one of the most exciting moments on my Sojo journey so far. We were amongst an incredible cohort of exceptional businesses, and it is such an honour to have been selected as the winner. This funding will allow us to accelerate our offering by allowing us to partner with businesses as well as enable us to expand our service beyond London. The Santander programme has been invaluable with workshops, mentorship, interns and support that have really helped Sojo to flourish. I’m very grateful and I’m so excited for what the future holds!” 

Paul Mendieta, Co-Founder of Deploy said:

“It’s fantastic to be the runner-up of the Santander X Entrepreneurship Awards. The prize will support the growth of our business by enabling us to reach the communities which we have been aiming to help for so long. The programme of support throughout the competition has been incredible and it has enabled us to expand our network and be part of such a great community.”

In addition to the two overall winners, three other businesses reached the final and received a cash prize of £5,000 of business support from Santander. They were announced as follows:

  • Cos Colours, which creates planet-friendly paints with a purpose, from the University of Sussex;
  • Kestrl, which is an app that helps Muslims to achieve their financial goals in line with their values, from the University of Cambridge; and
  • M cultivo, which empowers the next generation of coffee producers with accessible, transformative technology, from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

The competition final follows the Santander X programme for 2021, a five-month virtual business acceleration programme dedicated to help all 82 innovative student and graduate businesses of the bank’s partner universities to scale. The programme included online sessions led by entrepreneurs and experts on topics such as: building your brand; future-proofing your business; funding and finance; and wellbeing and resilience, as well as 1:1 coaching and business mentoring.

Research conducted by Santander Universities  in 2020 revealed that over 480,000 (27 per cent)(2) students run or plan to run a business whilst they are at university. The study(3)   – which polled 1,000 undergraduates from across the UK – found that almost one in ten (9%) entrepreneurs are already running a business alongside their studies, an increase from just 6% recorded in 2018(4) , with an additional 18% of students saying they have plans to start their own business venture in the near future.  

Since the competition launched in 2011, Santander Universities has awarded more than £600,000 in support of student start-ups across the UK and given universities the chance to showcase entrepreneurial talent from across the country. Overall, Santander Universities has provided over £2.5m of funding each year to support entrepreneurship at its 85 UK university partners.

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