Two Middlesex students are through to tonight's Grand Final of the Entrepreneurial Barnet competition, where they will pitch their business ideas to a panel of expert judges as they vie to win a substantial cash prize and mentoring.
Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship Masters student Ronak Shah thinks he has spotted a gap in the market for campus cinema, since many students lack the time and the money to go out to watch a movie.
(image right: Ronak Shah)
Michael Chmielinski, a fourth year BSc Banking and Finance international student who grew up near Gdansk in Poland is also sizing up an opportunity, around the lack of functional, flexible Apps to connect private tutors with students.
Now in its fifth year, the contest is organised collaboratively by Middlesex University, Barnet Council, Barnet & Southgate College and Brent Cross, and generously supported by Hammerson PLC, which is hosting the final at its HQ in King's Cross.
The competition is open to students at Middlesex and Barnet & Southgate College, recent Middlesex alumni, and Barnet residents with a new business idea or with a business or social enterprise that is less than two year olds. All entrants compete on a level playing field against each other.
Route to the final
The process began last October with all applicants making an elevator pitch to convince the judges they had a viable business concept. Those who were successful received a golden ticket inviting them to submit a Business Model Canvas, fleshing out the details of their idea in categories such as customers, routes to market, value proposition and finance - competition partner NatWest arranged workshops to help with this task. Three contestants made it through to the final.
“Every day I feel like giving up or quitting I think of the students who have made a difference to my life and I just want to give back,” Andre Thompson, 2017 Entrepreneurial Barnet Competition winner
With his Uni Cinema Ronak hopes to lure stressed students, whose alternative campus distractions are food and drink or the gym, with keenly-priced tickets, monthly themes and Secret Cinema-style immersive experiences. If it works at Middlesex, he wants to expand to other campuses.
Ronak, who works as a graduate academic assistant at Middlesex and helps with the Enterprise Development Hub wants to get students thinking more about their futures.
As a wheelchair user, whose confidence was greatly helped by his experience studying as an undergraduate at Middlesex, he is passionate about inclusivity: he hopes his cinema will "encourage students to come out of their box". He's thinking of other ways to develop as a business person and build his brand - "There isn't anything that holds me back," he says.
Michael Chmielinski takes an entrepreneurial approach to everything he does: “I’m the sort of person that if I see a problem, I’ll tell you five solutions,” he says. He did three years of paid work and language learning before he started as a UK student, and landed a year of study in the US and high-powered corporate internships during his course to give himself an edge.
His market research to identify competitors for his App idea led him to lining up a business partner. He sees his chosen niche as having huge potential – “absolutely, we wouldn’t do it otherwise”.
(image right:) Michael Chmielinski
Former Middlesex Creative Technology Master’s Andre Thompson, who won the 2017 competition with his Student Light App to connect individuals and communities across higher education said at the time: “It feels absolutely incredible to win the prize. I’m glad people are really seeing that mental health in universities is an issue.
“Every day I feel like giving up or quitting I think of the students who have made a difference to my life and I just want to give back”.
One of last year’s Entrepreneurial Barnet finalists Lee Dein was recently on the BBC’s Dragons Den and is achieving excellent growth with her business Magic Link Handwriting, a programme to teach neat joined-up handwriting to young children and adults.
David Williams, Director of Global Corporate Engagement at Middlesex says, "We are delighted that this competition has attracted and inspired students from across the University and our partners.
"There is so much talent and innovative thinking from young people that it is essential that Barnet Council, Barnet & Southgate College and Middlesex University come together with organisations like Hammerson to provide it a platform, to give more encouragement to other entrepreneurs.
"We congratulate all the finalists and look forward to them further developing their ideas".