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Enterprising students among the brightest of the bunch

24/05/06

Enterprising students among the brightest of the bunch

Mark ParryAn online restaurant booking system is just one of the ideas that has helped Kingston students carry off four of the 10 prizes at the annual Westfocus Bright Ideas competition. Other inventions, including a tool for assisting Braille readers, a mobile text advice service for young parents and a system for ordering meals online from any restaurant in the United Kingdom, were also recognised.

Run by WestFocus, a consortium of seven London universities working in partnership to promote enterprise and innovation, the competition was set up to enhance students’ entrepreneurial thinking. Each winner received £1,000 and had the opportunity to pitch their ideas to guests at the awards ceremony held in March.  A further 10, four of whom were Kingston students, won £250 runner-up prizes.

The Kingston winners included Mark Parry, Natasha Coppins, Debbie Smith, Panagiotis Ladas and Ioannis Staikouras. Business information systems undergraduate student Mark created an online restaurant booking service which provides a flexible diary system allowing customers to instantly check availability and book a table online in a similar way to booking theatre tickets.  Mark, who hopes to officially launch his venture this year, believes the Bright Ideas competition experience has given him important skills to take into the workplace after graduating.  “Going through the process of putting the business plan together, raising capital to get the idea off the ground and keeping it going has been invaluable,” he said.  “I have been able to progress my idea rapidly and winning this award will help to keep the momentum going to secure more customers and backing.”  Another food-related project lead to data communications student Panagiotis Ladas and politics student Ioannis Staikouras becoming prize winners after creating a system that enables people to order meals online from any United Kingdom restaurant.

Debbie Smith  and Natasha CoppinsMeanwhile a community-minded collaboration saw PhD psychology students Natasha Coppins and Debbie Smith pick up another of the winning prizes after developing a tool able to identify whether a Braille reader has a problem with the sensitivity of their fingertips.  Natasha said the pair’s success signified the importance of creative thinking outside the commercial sector.  “Our idea is not really a money-making one, but is still something that would hugely benefit a small section of society,” she said. “Learning Braille is very important for blind people because it helps them to be independent, so I do think there is a market for a product like ours.”  The pair, who also won an award for a mobile phone text service which offers young parents support and advice, plan to use their prize money and three months of mentoring to develop the idea further. 

Dr Martha Mador manager of the WestFocus Entrepreneurship Centre said that the competition had provided students with a supportive environment in which to explore their ideas and gain the confidence to promote them. Over a hundred students from a wide range of academic disciplines from engineering to event management, studying at undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD levels entered the competition.  “Of the 80 competition ideas submitted this year, more than a quarter came from Kingston University students which is a real reflection of their determination to link their learning to the ever-changing demands of the marketplace.” Dr Mador said. “The aim of the Bright Ideas award scheme is to get students from all disciplines thinking about novel ideas and having the courage to bring them forward for development.”

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