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MDXcelerator winners announced after bumper entrepreneur competition

Entrepreneurial students had to pitch their business ideas to an esteemed panel of judges

Middlesex University has once again shown its pedigree for helping student entrepreneurs develop their own business after awarding a total of £15,000 in funding to five finalists in the MDXcelerator Student Start Up Support programme.

The event, now in its third year, offers mentoring and grants for students and alumni who are thinking about setting up an enterprise or becoming self-employed.

This year’s contest attracted 70 initial applicants before 30 were chosen to benefit from a mix of tailored one-to-one sessions, complimentary workshops and master classes, as well as networking opportunities and pitching challenges.

The programme is designed to equip students with knowledge and skills that will help them develop and articulate their business concept, understand market opportunities, be aware of financial scenarios, and build a growth strategy

Five finalists were selected to present their business ideas to an esteemed panel of judges including Vanessa Fernandes, the founder and managing director of NAYA London, Nigel Wray, a serial entrepreneur, Professor Nic Beech, the Vice-Chancellor of Middlesex University, and Louise Fairleigh, a business coach and relationship manager at Santander.

The finalists were each given five minutes to pitch their proposal followed by a five-minute question and answer session before the panel selected the winners as follows:

  1. Luigi Castellano – Xuonii (£7.500)
  2. Courtney Wilson – 624 Studios (£4.500)
  3. Georgia Gkolfinopoulou – FIRMUS (£2.000)
  4. Fatimah Mohammad – Women’s Only Fitness  & Tannika Williams-Nelson – Wordplay Poetry (£500)

All five winners will now be paired with a mentor as they continue their entrepreneurial journey.

MDXcelerator is delivered by MDXworks, the University's employment service.

The MDXcelerator is one of a number of competitions and programmes led or championed by the University for students looking to start up a business alongside Entrepreneurial Barnet, the Enterprise Development Hub, and the Mayor’s Entrepreneur Programme.

This focus on developing future entrepreneurs has paid off as it emerged one in seven former students manage or own their business according to research.

Dr Simon Best, Programme Leader Msc Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship, who runs the Enterprise Development Hub which has mentored thousands of graduates, said: “There is a reason why Middlesex University is one of the top ten universities to study at if you want to start your own business.

“It is because we do more than look just your idea.

“Someone once said ‘everyone has a plan, until they get punched in the face’.

“It is not the validity of the business idea alone that ultimately determines your success, but being able to respond to the difficulties of setting up and running a business is crucial.

“It is about having the ability and maturity to take that idea and then convince people to put their hand in their pocket and give you money.

“This is why we focus more on developing the character of our students through a series of realistic activities and challenging conversations.

“During this time students will develop not only their idea, but the ability and maturity to grow, so that when they are ready to launch, they really are ready.”

Here, we profile the MDXcelerator winners.

Luigi Castellano, a student on the BA in Business Management 2020-21 course, won the £7,500 top prize for his accessories and home furnishing business Xuonii, which reinvents everyday products in a more practical and environmentally friendly way

Large furniture, such as tables and beds, or accessories, such as backpacks and luggage, can be folded or disassembled to be stored in small spaces when not in use.

Xuonii products are manufactured using recycled aluminium, plastic, rubber, and bio-degradable materials such as nylon, bamboo, cotton and bio-TPU to avoid creating the landfill rubbish that most accessories and furniture tends to generate.

Luigi is set to launch the Xuonii accordion back pack and plans to use the funding to create the mold and first two batches.

“The best part of MDXcelerator was the support that I have received from the organisers of the competition as well as the team running the programme,” he said.

Later this month on June 22, Luigi will compete in the Mayor’s Entrepreneur final.

Runner up Courtney Wilson, who has a BA in Fashion Textiles from Middlesex University, is currently studying on the MSc Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship.

Her business, 624 STUDIOS is a luxury and eco-conscious fashion brand, offering one-of-a-kind womenswear collections made of textile waste along with an online community where people can share style tips and raise social awareness about sustainable fashion.

Courtney said the MDXcelerator funding will help her purchase industrial sewing equipment and materials to create the first collection, set up a website and contribute towards marketing.

“The best part of the MDXcelerator competition was the level of support that came from the hosts and coordinators of the competition,” said Courtney.

“I felt that no matter what, I was going to come out of that experience better than I was before.

“Thanks to this competition, my business idea became clear and I have become more confident in my entrepreneurial journey too.

“I am so grateful to have chosen Middlesex as my university because the level of support that I have received from MDX is something that will impact my life for years to come.”

Georgia Gkolfinopoulou, who won £2,000 for her business Firmus, is a full-time postgraduate student at Middlesex studying Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship.

The business is a financial well-being mobile application using relevant literacy education to help immigrants establish themselves monetarily and within the UK’s civil society.

Georgia explains that Firmus means 'stable' in Latin and she “lacked financial stability tremendously when growing up in Greece’s financial crisis” and her app is designed to “solve migrant wealth inequality through education and economic empowerment”.

The funding will help pay for UX/UI friendly desktop apps to test and measure the impact of Firmus, along with certifications needed to become accredited financial planners and wealth managers.

“The MDXcelerator competition made me realise that no one is more responsible for our success than ourselves,” said Georgia.

“It was an excellent opportunity to read more, learn more, practice, and switch to a growth mindset.

“The best part of the MDXcelerator was the exposure to great ideas and witnessing the passion and the vision of different individuals.

“In this life, the more we listen, the more we learn.

“Being a student in Middlesex has indeed been a life-changing experience.”

Tannika Williams-Nelson, who won £500 for her business Wordplay Poetry, is studying for an Msc in Criminology & Forensic Psychology.

Wordplay Poerty is an online arts, culture and poetry platform which will feature pre-recorded content such as performances, interviews and resources for artists.

“After the pandemic wiped out live events, the arts and culture sector was plagued with technical difficulties among other challenges whilst making the transition to online events,” said Tannika.

“We provide a safe space for expression that will be here through a pandemic and beyond.”

Tannika said the funding will help towards the start cost of her business including monetization features and context with the network of creatives.

“The best part of the programme was connecting with the panel judges because it was great to hear their experiences within the business industry,” she said.

Fatimah Mohammad, who won £500 for her business Women’s Only Fitness, has just completed the second year of her BSc Psychology with Counselling skills.

Her business aims to fill a “huge gap in the market for Muslim women who do not feel comfortable attending local gyms or leisure centres but are passionate about exercise”.

She plans to create a safe and private space for Muslim women to enjoy various sporting activities and will use the money to hire a qualified sports coach for the sessions and to promote via social media.

Fatimah said: “Personally, the best part of the MDXcelerator competition was the fun, interactive weekly sessions where I was able to connect and build relationships with fellow peers and entrepreneurs as a chance to share ideas, gain feedback and learn something new.

“The programme that Middlesex University provides is definitely a great place for helping student entrepreneurs kick-start their business and I would highly recommend it.”

Find out more about the Enterprise Development Hub

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