Durham’s new entrepreneurs


For 14 years, Durham students have been wowing judges with their ambitious business ideas at the Blueprint Enterprise challenge, an annual competition that brings out the entrepreneurs among the Durham student body. Recently, the winners for the Business idea challenge were announced. This is the first leg of the three-part challenge. The next part, which is currently underway, involves creating an actual business plan, while the final part will involve pitching the business proposal to the judges to see which idea can stand up to detailed inspection.

The three winning ideas were:

  1. Durham Applied Robotics & Technologies (DART): A company working towards creating various technological solutions for bars and clubs ranging from robotic bartenders to apps that could track inventory for bar owners.
  2. 20/20 Chess: A venture trying to disrupt the chess tournament market that is currently only served by one expensive annual competition. The founder of 20/20 chess wants to create a local tournament that would allow more people to experience the magic of chess and have fun.
  3. Old Elvet: This company is creating and marketing a Port wine that combines Durham’s historic heritage with a contemporary touch.

These three ideas span multiple industries and work towards solving wildly different problems, but the common thread running through all of them is the innovative use of a variety of new technologies to create solutions that would not have been possible a few years ago.

Take Old Elvet, who have decided to leverage the power of e-commerce to provide the Durham University diaspora all over the world with a product that can make them proud of their university. Justinas Cirtautas, cofounder and CEO, feels that principles and lessons from the tech-startup world can be applied to more traditional businesses to increase value and efficiency.

On the other hand, 20/20 chess relies on the power of social networking to connect with diverse chess societies throughout UK universities. The CEO of 20/20 Chess, Peter Hornsby, recounts how building a profile online can open doors when it comes to finding sponsors. He was able to convince the British Chess Magazine and luxury chess set providers Purling London to sponsor the chess tournament by using Facebook to create an attractive narrative.

Finally, DART wants to use robotics and software technologies that are currently concentrated in factories and industry to create a consumer product that can offer more value than the human counterparts. The co-founder and CEO, Benedict O’Donovan, believes that bars are currently inefficient and automation, together with apps, can provide an unrivalled customer experience. He is working on building a working prototype along with his co-founders that can be used to convince bar and club owners to switch to the new technology solutions.

More and more students at Durham are […] creating their own business upon graduation

All the winners were grateful for the support provided by the Enterprise Centre at Durham. Having an idea is one thing, but converting a dream into a viable business takes skill, dedication and patience. Vincent Robson, enterprise-coordinator at the Careers, Employability and Enterprise Centre, thinks “more and more students at Durham are taking a self-employment route or creating their own business upon graduation”. He adds that the “Blueprint [challenge] enables aspiring entrepreneurs to test out their ideas and gain practical support to move them forward.” This is an encouraging sign for dreamers across the campus. Projects like the Blueprint Challenge enable students to reality test ideas and learn how to approach entrepreneurship in the future and create meaningful impact by finding solutions to difficult problems.

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