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University of Leeds entrepreneurs secure investment to go global


University of Leeds technology entrepreneurs, Liam Patterson (25) and Jason Dainter (28), have secured a second venture capital investment of £160,000 to expand their rapidly growing business, Eco Market, into the lucrative US and Australian markets.

Their online marketplace for eco-friendly natural and Fair Trade products was founded in 2009. It offers a unique platform where customers can buy direct from over 1,700 stall owners on the site. “For eco-conscious shoppers, the story behind the product is really important – such as who the producers are, why and how they’ve made their product,” says Environment & Business graduate, Liam. “Eco Market personalises online shopping, recreating the experience found offline at farmers’ markets and craft fairs. It’s the feeling of buying from a person not a company that makes Eco Market so special.

The investment round includes Martin Penny, the co-founder of global hair product company, ghd. Mr Penny is a graduate of the University of Leeds and a key benefactor to the University’s programme of support and mentorship for aspiring entrepreneurs, such as the Enterprise Scholarship Awards, one of which Liam received in 2009. Other investors include Elisabeth Ling, a former executive at PayPal and eBay; Nader Alaghband, angel investor and founder of app development company Appli; Owen Li of Investcorp; and Ivan Mazour, an active investor through Innova Kapital.

Says Mr Penny: "Seeing the success of Eco Market is a powerful vindication of the Enterprise Scholarship scheme and shows that, even with a modest amount of investment, really exciting new businesses are able to get off the ground. I’m looking forward to working with Liam and Jason to help them and their company achieve their potential to become a global player in the e-commerce market."

With the backing of such experienced investors, the team has every confidence that this goal is achievable. “Eco-friendly and natural products are extremely popular in the US and Australia,” Liam says. “Thirty per cent of our traffic is from these countries and our goal is to scale this up significantly. This is a huge opportunity for us and it’s a very exciting time.”

This is the company’s second investment in two years. In 2012 they secured £200,00 and moved the company to the Shoreditch area of London, dubbed “Silicon Roundabout”, a thriving hub for technology start-ups.

Says Liam: “It’s hard to believe how far we’ve come in the last four years; some days it feels a bit surreal. It’s amazing to think that so many major entrepreneurs and investors agree with us that our business can really go global.

“It’s also a good feeling that there’s been a strong University of Leeds connection throughout the company’s history. It’s where Jason and I met and the idea for Eco Market was born; plus the Spark business start-up team had faith in us from the beginning, putting me forward for an Enterprise scholarship and encouraging us to enter the University business plan competition which gave us working capital and access to mentorship and other invaluable support. We’re proud to be able to go back and show them what we’ve achieved off the back of their help.”