Can you tell us a bit about what this competition is all about?
Bijaya: The Tata Varsity Pitch is an annual early-stage pitching competition that celebrates the best businesses coming out of colleges and universities across the country. It’s powered by the UK’s National Association of College & University Entrepreneurs (NACUE), and Tata has been supporting the Varsity Pitch for years.
As 2019 marks the 10th anniversary of the competition, a few Tata companies like Tata Communications have come together to sponsor the different categories, help coach the shortlisted businesses and ultimately pick the winner.
“It’s been a bumper year for the competition, with 424 entries from across the country in total.”
What happened in the semi-finals?
Amit: The semi-finals consisted of six categories, with five semi-finalists in each – so 30 presentations in total. Each of the semi-finalists started with a 2-minute pitch on their business, which was then followed by a 3-minute Q&A with a panel of three judges. All the semi-finalists were judged on three criteria: innovation, market opportunity – so, for example how the business will set itself apart from its competitors – and finally financial viability.
I was amazed by the semi-finalists’ ability to summarise what their business is all about in such a succinct, compelling way and not be fazed by the Dragons’ Den style format.
The category that we judged was IDEAS. To win this category, you might not have all the finer details around financial viability ironed out, and you might not have a website or even a prototype yet – but what you do need to have is a brilliant idea for a business and show that you’ve done your research on your industry.
Tell us a bit about the semi-finalists in the IDEAS category.
Shubhra: There was a huge range of different business ideas, all in different stages of development. The entrepreneur behind Tree Sparks wants to help educate the next generation of environmentalists by lowering the barriers for young people to explore careers in forestry. The creator of MyPainScore is building an innovative app that leverages artificial intelligence to help people living with chronic pain to manage their pain and reduce their dependence on medication. The pair behind Calorie Balance wants to help tackle the growing obesity crisis in emerging markets like China by transforming people’s diets with their white bean products. And, the investors of Black Goblin Audio look to bring next-generation computer-generated synthetic sounds to visual content creators. Finally, the entrepreneur behind First Step has developed an idea for an ingenious self-administered forensic device that can detect the evidence of sexual assault.
“What all the entrepreneurs had in common was passion for their cause or the sector where they’re looking to make their mark.”
This also made picking the finalist of the five incredibly hard – but in the end we all agreed that First Step was the strongest contender and should go through to the finals.
What made First Step stand out for you?
Bijaya: The pitch that Molly Steadman delivered for her idea was excellent from start to finish. She started by telling us how in the UK, 1 in 12 of female undergrad students are raped whilst at university, and due to memory blackouts and feelings of shame, most are unwilling to seek medical help or unable to report what has happened.
First Step helps victims of sexual assault by allowing them to take a swab test that detects the presence of the male Y chromosome. This then aims to give women the assurance and confidence to seek medical help and justice. To make First Step accessible for students, Molly would like to see it available at halls of residence at universities, for example.
We were impressed by her technical knowledge – she’d been doing a PhD in Biology. Yet, what really convinced us about the viability of her idea was that she had done her research and sought the counsel of experts in different fields from health clinics to forensics specialists to ensure that her solution is as good as it can be. Finally, she had passion and quiet confidence that shone through the 5-minute pitch.
What will happen next?
“The grand finale will take place in London on 20th November during Global Entrepreneurship Week.”
Amit: The top prize is £15,000 in cash to help get a fledgling business venture off ground, or to turn an initial idea like First Step into reality. The three of us will be rooting for Molly for sure!
This is such an exciting and rewarding initiative for Tata Communications to be part of; it’s an opportunity for us to support innovation in different industries, and help bring about the next big idea that could have a long-lasting positive impact on both people and businesses.
To learn more about Tata Communications’ approach to innovation and the Tata Varsity Pitch, read this blog post by Ankur Jindal, our Global Head of Corporate Venturing and Innovation.