Dragons' Den-style Gloucestershire business event highlights hotbed of entrepreneurial spirit

Shining a spotlight on the county's burgeoning entrepreneurial spirit, a fledgling event modelled on the popular business pitch programme, Dragons' Den, is due to take place at the University of Gloucestershire this December 2022.

By Andrew Merrell  |  Published
A close working relationship between the University of Gloucestershire and The Growth Hubs is getting students get face-to-face with business people.

While most of us were thinking about Christmas, sixth form students from a select group of Gloucestershire schools were getting ready to go before a panel of county experts to pitch their business ideas at the University of Gloucestershire – and potentially win prizes worth £1,000.

The new Gloucestershire Enterprise Challenge business pitch competition saw students – steered by the likes of The Growth Hub business guide, Andy Kime – unveil their ideas to a panel of county businesspeople at the Gloucestershire Business School on the eve of the week before Christmas.

The unpublicised event is good example of the energy being generated by the close working relationship between the university's business school and resident Growth Hub business support network that is supporting county companies big and small and cultivating an entrepreneurial culture among students too.

Businesspeople are now regularly found in the university's lecture theatres, helping students to develop business acumen and benefiting in return from their ideas, energy and even identifying future staff as a result.

Rob Whitehouse, lecturer at the University of Gloucestershire and former businessman himself, said: ‘We had a great panel of judges for the Gloucestershire Enterprise Challenge, featuring the likes of Hazlewoods, Gloucester Brewery, Andy Kime, and about £1,000 in gift vouchers to give away to the winners.

‘It is one of the first times private schools, mainstream schools, those involved on academic and vocational courses, have been invited to challenge together for something like this.

‘This year it was a relatively small, low-key event, but is has been attracting so much attention that next year we expect lots more school to come forward and would like to raise something like £10,000 in prizes.’

A further sign of how much the spirit of collaboration is crossing boundaries, Gloucestershire College students were also also involved – filming this year’s competition and linking up with county-based live podcast business Limor to report on the event. 

Kime, a former business advisor for Santander Bank who now dedicates his time to helping Gloucestershire firms of all sizes develop and grow, said: ‘The wins for everyone are obvious. Students are getting real-life experience from their exposure to real businesses, and in doing so they are often helping those businesses with real-word challenges and decision-making – in some cases proving valuable in that process as well.

‘Those businesses then come back in to tell the students what the impact of those decisions and ideas really were. They get to see and feel the highs and lows of business and the real pressures involved.’

Whitehouse said: ‘Having real businesspeople involved is adding such a lot of value to the curriculum. To have people of the calibre of The Growth Hub staff on board and all their contacts delivers that. Alex Cottrell, who leads the team there, and Andy have both been central to helping make this happen and the businesses have been incredible.’

Jared Brown from Gloucester Brewery, one of those on the panel at the Gloucestershire Enterprise Challenge business pitch competition, has already invited university students into his Docks-based business to see first-hand how the company produces its beers and gins.

And to get students not just enthused but prepared prior to the business pitch, Kime teamed up with Nik Venios of The Ideas Agency, who has worked with names like Rolls Royce, BMW, the National Trust, Pepsi, Philips and Superdrug, to talk about how to develop and stress-test their business ideas.

‘It is all very well having an idea, a great one even, but you need to be able to explain how to your financial director or bank manager how much money you will need to make it happen and what the return will be and when, so when you then go to your managing director you have a plan which stands up to scrutiny and becomes an idea worth investing in,’ said Kime.

‘Nick is the perfect guy to bring along to explain to how to go about solving problems for businesses. And young people are very often some of the best to tap into for businesses looking for fresh ideas and solutions.

‘They are likely to see past the problems and barriers, which is also invaluable for businesses. Some incredible collaborations have been taking place. It is a win-win for everyone involved.’

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