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Lloyds Bank Enterprise Awards : Regional winners: Scotland

The Telegraph
The heat winners in the Bank of Scotland Enterprise Awards have been announced. Find out more about the students who've become class acts

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sponsored/business/enterprise-awards/11149462/regional-winners-scotland.html

Best enterprise – Room Booking system

When Marcus Fields and his classmates found themselves stuck outside a classroom that a teacher had double-booked, he had a flash of inspiration. He says that, as a 15-year-old, “it was all very nice missing French, but I did think there must be a better way of organising 30 pupils”.

In fact he wouldn’t be where he is today without the support of teachers at Mearns Castle High School, near Glasgow, who urged him and fellow pupil Robbie Beattie to create a web-based booking system as a project. They duly did and then sold it back to the school.

Now more than half a million parents, teachers and administrators use their Room Booking System software to reserve rooms and resources, and book parents’ evening appointments online.

Mr Fields – who is now 24 and two years out of university – set up the company on his 16th birthday in 2006.

At the time, the pair were too young to exhibit at a trade fair – but when they did two years later, they walked away with a prize for ICT Company of the Year from the BETT Awards, which showcase educational technology. Both continued with their company when they went to separate universities. Mr Fields surreptitiously answered client emails during lectures.

The two spent summer holidays improving the product and got first-class degrees before returning in earnest to the business.

The sacrifices they made in student holidays have now been easily made up for with job satisfaction.

As Mr Fields says: “We’ve come this far without any external funding. We didn’t even have a mentor.”

Now, after winning Best Enterprise, there will be that mentoring. Next year the plans are to target US, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand schools, and do another web- based project.

“If we can be half as successful abroad as we’ve been in the UK, we’ll be a massive company.”

Best Start-up – VH innovation

Engineer and entrepreneur Victoria Hamilton turned down a prestigious graduate scheme to start a company based on her undergraduate project – hi-tech protection designed to save the joints of manual trade workers who are prone to knee damage.

She created her product with her father in mind. He is a self-employed joiner who suffers from osteoarthritis from long periods spent kneeling during his 25 years of work. Existing knee pads are impractical and too uncomfortable to wear for long, Ms Hamilton says. “My design offers a 36pc reduction in peak pressures on the joint.”

Unfortunately for her father, who has tested 12 prototypes, he has only had one pad to wear at a time, though Ms Hamilton is looking forward to handing him a pair when the final version arrives soon. She plans to go into production before the end of the year to have the pads on the shelf in January.

While at the University of Strathclyde, Ms Hamilton was offered a job as a graduate engineer with Scottish and Southern Energy. But the university’s entrepreneurial programme encouraged her to turn her student design project into a medical solution.

The university and the Strathclyde Enterprise Hub offered her free office space and guidance. “As an undergraduate I always liked the idea of running my own company: my parents are self- employed, so I thought, ‘Why not give it a go?’ I thought I’d always be able to find another engineering job if it didn’t work out.”

The Bank of Scotland Enterprise Awards are the latest in a host of accolades for Ms Hamilton. It is timely as she is seeking investment and looking at UK and Chinese production facilities. “I’d like to continue to manufacture in the UK but it depends on funding.” For now, the company is just her and an intern, but she plans to hire sales and marketing expertise.

She attributes her success to sound advice and a good idea. “If you have a plan, the best thing you can do is speak to people about it, from organisations such as The Prince’s Trust or Business Network Scotland. There’s no harm discussing it.”

Best DIgItal – trtl

Michael Corrigan is a full-on evangelical believer in social media which allow his design- led company to speak directly to potential clients. “Over the last two or three months we’ve been quite innovative in our push to reach customers through tools such as Twitter and Facebook.

“We’ve been targeting women aged 30 to 45 particularly and engaging them in conversation; they’re the ones who usually make the buying decisions.”

His company’s main product, the “trtl” — “travel refreshed, travel light”, and pronounced “turtle” — sleep scarf is an innovative travel aid that looks a lot less nerdy than neck-hugging travel pillows for long-haul passengers. Mr Corrigan and his fellow student and business partner David Kellock developed the product after studying mechanical engineering together at the University of Strathclyde.

They were both driven to set up a business after attending a talk by Kwik-Fit founder and philanthropist Sir Tom Farmer. “He was inspirational. Neither of us are in this for the material side. We want to create a thriving business, inspire people and show it can be done.”

Mr Corrigan says that the Bank of Scotland Enterprise Awards are an important way of “making noise” about the business, “because it’s all about who you know. If people believe in you, it makes a massive difference.”

On graduation, Mr Corrigan took an engineering job but squirrelled money away to plough into the venture; the company went live last year after two years of development. An entrepreneur-mentor who had supported them from concept through to launch decided to invest in the company at the start of the year and they have recently hired two marketing staff to boost the online campaign. “They’ve added so much to the business,” Mr Corrigan says.

About 1,3000 sleep scarves have been sold already and the company has just received a bulk order from Dixons Travel, which has outlets at UK airports.

Mr Corrigan has learnt on the job, working out modern “viral” marketing methods. “An engineering background helps. It teaches you to understand the principles of why stuff works; then you apply it elsewhere.”

While the team have a few product innovations in the pipeline, they have not ruled out moving into other sectors in the longer term.

Among the key challenges the company has faced is finding the right staff – a lament that will ring true with many start-ups. “But whatever happens does so for a reason,” Mr Corrigan says. “There’s always a lesson to be learnt.”

The Bank of Scotland Enterprise Awards

Prizes range from £1,000 to £5,000 for Best Start-up and Best Enterprise – along with a new prize for 2014, Best Digital. These businesses will attend next month’s final with the other heat winners, when Britain’s best companies will compete for prizes reaching £50,000 as well as one-to-one mentoring.

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