A textiles design graduate and a product design student have been named as winners of the 2015 Sir Peter Thompson Enterprise Award at the University of Leeds.
The annual event is organised by the University’s business start-up service, Spark, with each winner receiving an award of £5,000 from Sir Peter Thompson, a Leeds alumnus, serial entrepreneur and business angel investor.
For Marie Stenton, 24, who graduated in 2013, winning the Award is just the trigger she needed to take a major decision. Her business, Marie Stenton Ltd, is a high-end women’s fashion and accessories label specialising in scientific, digital prints. She said: “So far I’ve been running my business whilst working full-time designing and manufacturing for a lingerie firm. It’s a nerve-wracking decision to leave the security of paid employment to concentrate fully on your own venture, but knowing that such a renowned entrepreneur like Sir Peter Thompson believes in me has given me the confidence to take that step.”
Marie has been trading since July 2014, and her first collection is sold across four UK boutiques as well as via her own website, attracting attention from top fashion trade journal Harper’s Bazaar. She says the £5,000 Award will help her deliver her second collection and has already set her sights on international trading, and added new homewares and accessories to her product range.
The second winner, James Wilkinson, 23, attended Spark’s Entrepreneurs’ Bootcamp in December 2014 and, although already running a separate business, One Event Services Ltd, went on to win Spark’s 2015 business plan competition with an innovative product aimed at the event production industry – all during the final year of his Master’s degree. Details of the product remain confidential while James works towards patenting the technology, but he says the prize money will be put towards refining the product prototype to secure the patent.
The Spark team encouraged James to apply successfully for an entrepreneur Fellowship from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – one of only 10 fellowships awarded globally each year. James also secured an invitation to the MIT Global Startup Workshop held in Guatemala earlier this year.
He says: “Working with the Spark team has opened all sorts of doors for me right from the start – the Bootcamp, the advice and mentorship from professional services associates have all been invaluable. The conference in Guatemala was an incredible experience. I networked intensively and as a result am already discussing how my product can be applied to other industries with contacts I made. I can’t thank the Spark team enough for their support, and Sir Peter for his Award. It means so much to have someone like Sir Peter backing your ideas and believing in you.”
Sir Peter has funded the award since 2009 and also selects the winners after a presentation and interview - a task that he says gets harder each year, due to the quality of the propositions. He says: “I’m proud to support to support an organisation like Spark, which is producing the next generation of entrepreneurs and business people in this country. When I see how hard these bright young people work and the brilliant ideas they generate, and see the drive they have to run their own businesses, it’s a great feeling to be able to give something back to help them.”
Spark’s Business Start-Up Manager, Kairen Skelley, said: “Both our winners this year have used their university studies to underpin their businesses – Marie has capitalised on her natural flair and expertise in textiles design and James’ product design skills have delivered, and continue to refine, his innovative idea. What they’ve both achieved to date whilst combining other commitments is a real testament to their determination as entrepreneurs.”