The Catalyst Challenge returns to the Science Park

Yesterday, here at Southampton Science Park, we were thrilled to host the 2014 Catalyst Challenge! Doing what we do best – inspiring young entrepreneurs – we invited students from the University of Southampton to work in teams to make a compelling pitch in front of a panel of judges from across the business spectrum.

The challenge is a real test of the students’ potential enterprising nature because they need to work out how best to structure their team, how to work together without conflict, and ultimately, to develop a pitch that outlines their business plan and makes a compelling case to the ‘investors’ – all challenges that entrepreneurs face in the real world.

The students were split into six teams and given just three hours to work on a brief explained to them by the judges in the morning. The teams were given one of two challenges, both of which relate to current Catalyst Centre companies, (Parsly and BluPoint). The challenge involved considering their business’s value propositions, potential customers, pricing strategies, revenue streams, essential activities, key partners and costs, as well as the investment required to launch the business, and where this might come from. All made a huge effort to put together compelling propositions, including some business financials – no mean feat in the time available!

The judging panel comprised: Southampton Science Park CEO, Peter Birkett; Catalyst Centre judge and business mentor, Phil Sharpe; Science Park tenant and MD of React, Layla-Jane Stacey and SETsquared Southampton Director, David Bream – all bringing a wealth of experience in terms of growing business and working with investors.

The teams presented a simple business plan following the guidelines outlined in “Business Model Generation” by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur. Their ten minute presentations were followed by gruelling Q&A sessions where the judges tested the students’ understanding of their business plans and gave constructive criticism in order to improve their future entrepreneurial endeavours.

We spoke to the winning team members, Daniel Kent, Annemerel Van Dijke, Rahul Nair and Rachel Matton and asked them why they entered the Catalyst Challenge and what they believed set them apart from the other teams.

Daniel Kent: “My friend Tunde, who runs Fish on Toast, and also my close friend Zack Young who was one of the first Catalyst Centre tenants back in 2012 encouraged me to get involved!”

Rachel Matton: “I was just looking through the emails, got one, and applied! I’m in my first year so have never done anything like this before. I don’t do a business degree or anything like that, so it’s something a bit different.”

Rahul Nair: “I do mechanical engineering, and I want to make a change. In the future I would like to design my own products, so I wanted to learn a bit more about the business side of things, and use this experience to pitch my ideas in the future. It’s always good to have a lot of skills rather than just engineering, engineering, engineering!”

Annemerel Van Dijke: “I’ve already done lots of presentations, but never actually pitched something before. So I thought it would be a great exercise for me and apparently we did really well!!”

Huge congratulations to the winners, who despite being a bit nervous about the challenge, worked well together as a team and really impressed the four judges!