Graduate entrepreneurs receive Business Boosts
Simon Edwards, a 2004 BSc (Hons) Applied Computing graduate, and Benjamin Hodds, a 2005 BA (Hons) Business and Marketing graduate, each won £500 plus expert support and advice for their respective businesses: Bookaroo and YourNest.
The Leeds Victoria Business Boost competition was devised by the Enterprise and Innovation Hub at Leeds Beckett University and Hammerson, the developers behind the Victoria Gate scheme.
Benjamin Hodds started his company, YourNest, in May 2016. Originally from Newcastle, Benjamin moved to Leeds to study at Leeds Beckett, getting a good insight into the student property letting business in the area. After graduating, he worked for a well-known letting agent for a number of years, before deciding to take the leap and set up on his own.
He explained: “Knowing and understanding that often students feel they are not being taken seriously, or in some cases taken advantage of, we set up our business with the clear intention that customer is key. Service is key and making sure we find students suitable home whilst making sure they are looked after throughout their tenancy is imperative. Our houses range from the cheap and cheerful to high-end luxury student living; and we also do professional and residential lettings. All our properties represent fantastic value and have the tenants’ best interests at heart: Happy tenants mean happy houses.”
YourNest Office Manager, Sarah Blackburn, graduated from Leeds Beckett in 2009 with a degree in Childhood Studies. She helped set up the company alongside Benjamin.
Sarah said: “After graduating from university I was an early years practitioner working in nurseries in both Leeds and Harrogate with children, from birth to five years old. I then moved on and went to explore New Zealand for six months and I worked in Auckland Council’s building control department which sparked a passion for the property and maintenance industry.
“On my return to the UK, I worked at a local letting agent where I very swiftly got promoted to their assistant manager and I stayed with the company for three years. Ben and I then decided it was time to branch out by ourselves. I’ve been involved in YourNest from the beginning and it’s been absolutely great to be part of something from its initial stages and watching it grow.”
Benjamin added: “It was an amazing feeling to be selected as one of the final eight for the competition, not to mention actually coming third. It is very hard to pitch a letting agent as an innovative company as (and let’s be honest) there’s a lot of us; but I am happy to say that our new processes and plans for new technological innovation made us stand out to the judges. The prize will surely help our brand awareness and help us be recognised by larger companies looking to partner on bigger projects. The prize money will also be put to good use and help boost our online presence as we approach our busier period.”
Simon Edwards will use his £500 prize money to develop his new business venture, Bookaroo. Bookaroo is a simple mobile booking and payment platform for small businesses, such as dog walkers, hairdressers and gardeners. Currently a team of four, Bookaroo has a strategy and teaser website in place and the team are currently developing their app and full website ready for launch.
Simon has been running his own businesses since his student days, with his first business being based in our Enterprise and Innovation Hub’s former home at Headingley Campus. After graduating in 2004 and working for a year as a web developer, he decided that being someone else’s employee was not for him. So he set up his own business, running a small agency and working with a network of developers from our Hub at Queen Square. Simon’s latest venture, LightStart, was the first business to move in to the University’s Digital Hub.
Simon explained: “At LightStart, we primarily build apps but also corresponding desktop websites and all the infrastructure that supports an app. As well as working with clients, we have many projects of our own; Bookaroo is the one that we are putting the most energy into. Our next goal is to further validate the idea of the app and we will be using some of the prize money to carry out focus groups in December to make sure that our app fits with what the market is looking for. We will then be recruiting early stage users of the app so that 3000 users will be notified when it officially launches in March 2017. Once it has launched, we then want to secure investment to grow the team.
“We’ve got a long relationship with the Enterprise and Innovation Hub at Leeds Beckett. Through the Hub, we have worked on a cycling app project with Leeds Beckett and City of York Council called Cycle Yorkshire; and the Hub has continued to recommend clients to us over the years.”
Fran Parkinson, Operations Manager for the Enterprise and Innovation Hub at Leeds Beckett, commented: “We are really pleased for Leeds Beckett graduates Benjamin Hodds and Simon Edwards. YourNest have only recently moved into the Enterprise and Innovation Hub and it is wonderful to see them already progressing so well with their business. Simon has been a longstanding member of the Enterprise and Innovation Hub and this is his third venture. The business concept is a really good one and we are sure he will do well. Well done to all the winners, the standard of competition entries and pitches was really high. They should be proud of themselves.”
The Leeds Victoria Business Boost competition offered the chance to win prize money of up to £2,000, plus expert advice and support, to all West Yorkshire-based businesses and residents looking to set up and grow a business, or already in their first 18 months of trading.
Successful applicants were invited to pitch their business ideas to a panel of business experts comprising of senior figures from Leeds Beckett University, Hammerson, The Yorkshire Post, Microsoft, the Institute of Directors (IoD) and WGN, with judging taking place at DWF’s Leeds offices on Bridgewater Place.
As well as the cash incentive, the winners will also receive a half hour business growth diagnostic to better understand and support their business, a year’s free membership of the WNY Chamber of Commerce, a digital and IT review with Microsoft, £1,000 worth of accountancy and tax support from WGN, six months’ free registered business address plus mail forwarding at the Enterprise and Innovation Hub at Leeds Beckett and exclusive membership to the 99 Club with the IoD (subject to eligibility).
Artemis Brew, owned by entrepreneur Ben Barker, took home first prize; and all winners will be presented with their awards on Wednesday 18 January at the Leeds Enterprise Network Event.