Funding Update: José Maria Macedo

José Maria Macedo, final year Philosophy, Politics and Economics student, applied for funding last year to develop marketing materials for his martial arts business, Kaizen Academy. Here, he shares his funding update.

I’m José Maria Macedo and I run a business called Kaizen Academy whose aim is to modernise and improve the entire experience of training martial arts. As part of this, we thought it was important to produce some high-quality promotional videos to clearly and visually demonstrate to potential customers just how different we are from an average martial arts school. So, we decided to apply to the Enterprise Award (the application process was great and really helped us refine our ideas for the videos) and used the money to produce two promotional videos for our business:

We are extremely happy with the look of the videos as we feel they really symbolise our brand but more importantly we’re thrilled with the results: the videos have been viewed cumulatively over 50,000 times and we’ve used them in our New Year’s marketing campaign (spending £500 on Facebook marketing them) to secure over 35 subscribed customers for a revenue of £12,000 over the next 12 months.

We’re now at maximum capacity for adult members with 170 total members (which also makes us one of the largest martial arts clubs in the UK!) and we know we couldn’t have done it without these videos. Thank you very much to the Enterprise Team and Santander for making it possible!

Student entrepreneur film maker, Harry McGill worked with José and Kaizen Academy to produce both promotional videos. 

You can like Kaizen Academy on Facebook to keep up to date with their progress, and have a look at their webpages for more information.

If you’re interested in applying for an Enterprise Award of up to £500, check out our funding pages here

GUEST BLOG: Sebastian Weise, PlaceChangers

“I realised that entrepreneurship can be a powerful source of doing good and making a positive impact.”

Sebastian Weise, founder of PlaceChangers Ltd and former PhD Highwire student, received an Enterprise Award in November 2015. Here, he shares his experience.

This is a blog post about my business startup PlaceChangers, started in April 2015. If you are a student interested in starting a company and want to learn what it takes to start-up, this post is for you. In this post I want to touch on challenges and opportunities along the way and key motivations to keep going. Sure, your story will significantly differ as every decision to start-up is quite personal; and that’s OK. One of the key lessons to learn is to have good networks of support. In the case of PlaceChangers, the Enterprise Centre supported us financially towards our basic startup expenses. We are very thankful for their support and early encouragement.

Where did you get the idea for PlaceChangers?

PlaceChangers Ltd arose from research on the interface between the public and urban planners to make choices for Lancaster’s future development. In my research on public participation, many practices became apparent that involved some form of mapping (in the spatial but also conceptual sense), but that wasn’t much reflected in public engagement. As I analysed spatial distributions of participants and issues raised in official consultations, I found a lack of suitable software for large audiences to partake in the regulations for their neighbourhoods. Essentially that’s how the idea of a start-up at the intersection of mapping, data visualisation, and urban spaces grew on me. We started out in April 2015 and begun trading a year later in April 2016.

At the outset, I read a lot about entrepreneurship. I realised that entrepreneurship can be a powerful source of doing good and making a positive impact. Steve Jobs and Elon Musk’s biographies are an inspiration in terms of overcoming challenges and making a difference. In different ways, these entrepreneurs were passionate. For them, purpose was everything and played a key role in their entrepreneurial careers. Their personal challenges and successes encouraged me to try to set a mark, too, even though it may be a much smaller one.

What did your enterprise funding award contribute to and what lessons have you learned from this experience?

 I started in April 2015 while still working on my PhD. The company was registered in Lancaster, but physically I was located in Manchester, where many of my friends were. This was a challenging time, making income from freelancing for a public service consultancy, completing the PhD, and going to startup events. Eventually with a friend of mine, a developer, I started to work on PlaceChangers as a business. Both short on cash, I was very thankful when we were offered the Enterprise Fund to help us cover early start-up costs, such as essential software required to get going, to cover our hosting costs, but also help us towards financing user workshops. Alongside this we were fortunate to receive additional financial support from the EPSRC and I’d say that this helped us become finalists in a competition on “Innovating in Urban Spaces” in January 2016.

What would you say to inspire future students who want to make things happen by applying for an Enterprise Award?

The journey from starting up to finding a first customer and contract is an exciting learning curve, dotted with many challenges. It took PlaceChangers about a whole year to start trading. Throughout you learn a lot about yourself and other people, and that’s very important. When you get to understand somebody’s needs and manage to serve it with honesty and interest, that’s when great things happen. The Enterprise Award is great in helping cover the many smaller expenditures to help towards understanding user needs and confirm your business proposition. Initially, select carefully who you may want to involve in early market testing, assemble a contact list with preferences, and keep regular meaningful contact. Over time, you find out about needs, opportunities, built trust and make yourself known.

What does the future look like for PlaceChangers?

PlaceChangers is moving on. We have moved to new offices at Campus North, in the city centre of Newcastle. We have a software developed that fits the needs of one of our target audiences and we are working on expanding our product feature set to address other audiences at some point in the new year. With a bit of luck and good planning, we will emerge as a significant engagement consultancy for public and private sector clients.

Last but not least, if you are still hesitant to start. Back then, I might have been somewhat unsure, too. That’s normal. There were many who may not have believed it paying off, who failed to see the opportunity beyond the formalities of urban planning. I would not turn back, it’s a personal journal everybody starts on differently. For me, entrepreneurship is also about ‘doing good by doing business’ and so I’d recommend it to anyone who has a strong passion to fill another persons’ need.

We wish Sebastian and PlaceChangers the best of luck in Newcastle!

If you’d like to apply for an Enterprise Funding Award, get in touch and find out more here.

Image courtesy of Placechangers Ltd.

Team Poslat at the Histar Competition 2016

Team Poslat funding experience

In July 2016, IT, Management and Organisational Change masters students Kennedy Simutowe & Oyinda Oludipe applied for a funding award for their business idea, Poslat. They tapped into the Enterprise Fund to pay for their travel and accommodation at the Histar competition semi finals in Oxford. Here, they share their experience of the day and what opportunities they were exposed to by attending the semi final.

The Histar Competition 2016 was receiving entries up to 10th June, for startup ideas and big idea submissions.

Under the big ideas entries, we participated by submitting our innovative shipping solution, Poslat. On 9th July 2016 we were elated to learn that our proposal had been accepted to the semi finals, which included an entrepreneurship and business bootcamp at Oxford University.
kennedy-histar3In the run up to the Histar competition, we had also consulted with the Lancaster University Enterprise Centre (LUEC) from whom we received invaluable advice, mentoring and support for our idea. A few days prior to the Histar bootcamp, we were privileged to have an extensive session with the LUEC team with whom potential issues to do with the Poslat idea were discussed, including cross border movement of goods, customs and security. The lean development approach was suggested for Poslat. Lean development involves identifying the problem that needs to be solved and then developing a minimum viable product to begin the process of learning the customer’s requirements as quickly as possible. In the same session, the Poslat business model canvas was developed and analysed. On Saturday 16th July, we travelled to Oxford with all arrangements provided for and well facilitated by LUEC.

In the morning sessions, we pitched the idea behind Poslat to the Histar judging panel who were very intrigued and interested by the solution. Our 11 page Powerpoint slide was effective and summarised the entire proposal. During the pitch battle and mentoring in the afternoon sessions, we received feedback on the innovative Poslat solution to do with:

  1. Patentability
  2. Revenue model
  3. Unique selling proposition
  4. Trust, security, customs and legal considerations.

histar panel (cut)Other activities at the event included business lectures on embracing innovation, management strategies for startup companies, intellectual property, engaging the Chinese market and accessing Chinese investment. The business discussion panels featured interactive question and answer feedback from experts. As the Poslat team, one of the questions we posed was ‘how well are Chinese investors receiving disruptive business models (such as AirBnB, Uber) founded on the sharing economy concept?’ to which the answer was very encouraging; many investors are ready to support ideas and startups of all kinds, especially disruptive ones, as long as they are well thought out and hold promise for meaningful returns in the long run.

A networking lunch was also held and this provided an opportunity to exchange ideas with and received ideas from some of the business experts and mentors.

Overall, the Histar semi finals were well organised and delivered more insights on entrepreneurship and business development for our team. We made friends from all over the UK and exchanged contacts with potential business partners for the development of the Poslat shipping idea. We are confident that based on our innovative solution and the effective business pitch presentation, we will be announced as winners in the final stage on 20th August 2016.

Following this blog piece, Kennedy and Simutowe were shortlisted for the competition final in August… congratulations guys!

For more information, follow these links:

Histar Competition 2016

Lancaster University Enterprise Fund

Introduction to the Business Model Canvas

Funding Update: Team Gryphos

Team Gryphos: Santander winners and funding awardees

Patrizia Carbone, Sebastien Combret and Kyaw Tun Sein received an enterprise funding award in March 2016 which allowed them to attend and win Santander’s Big Ideas competition in London. In this update, they share their motivations, ambitions and where they hope their idea will go next.

We are three MSc International Innovation students; Patrizia and Sebastien are on the Design pathway and Kyaw is on the Engineering pathway.

We met almost 2 years ago at Lancaster University when we started the MSc and we worked together during the first year on a couple of course projects before moving to China for six months in our second year. The three of us have always had a desire to start our own business. So, in the streets of Guangzhou (China) we started meeting and thinking about our next steps. We all had different ideas about a possible product/service but we decided that to make OUR idea we needed one that came from the three of us together.

Pic 1

After endless brainstorming meetings, tons of post-it notes we had a common problem that we wanted to solve…from there we looked, discussed different possible solutions to solve it and came up with the one we felt more suitable. We got feedback from potential users by survey and interviews.

We started working on the project, prototype etc. and decided we were going to apply for a start-up incubator and work toward applying for HAX, the world’s first and largest hardware accelerator based in Shenzhen.

While working on the project we found out, thanks to the Enterprise Centre, that there was the Santander Big Ideas Competition coming up soon, we thought it could be a good start to apply and see what feedback we could get from it. Therefore, we adapted our original idea to fit into the requirement of the competition and Gryphos was born. Gryphos is a fingerprint and ECG digital authentication device that allows you to securely enter your online banking account and make payment securely through NFC (near field communication – a form of contactless communication between devices likes smartphones or tablets).

Pic 2

When we are working together on our project, we feel like children playing. We are serious about solving the problem to make a difference in the world but it is also so much fun. There is a positive energy and a great sense of curiosity among the team. When one team member has an idea to try out, we all give it some thought and we give it a try most of time. We even ended up hacking the iphone!

From there it went pretty fast, we successfully passed the different stages of the application selection and we got the invitation to the semi-final in London on 22nd March. We were not sure we could make it since we were still in China, but luckily for us the Enterprise Team was very helpful and through our application to the Enterprise Fund, we were able to purchase our flight tickets and the team gave support answering the millions questions we had. Finally, we were able to attend and…won the competition!

It has been a great experience and one of the best parts of it was the feedback we received from the executive board at Santander because it gave an insight on the way our device could be used that, for lack of experience, we had not thought about it. We were also invited to visit Santander R&D department in Milton Keynes and attend, as guests, the Santander Universities Entrepreneurship Awards 2016, at the end of June.

After the competition, we came back to Lancaster University to finish our dissertations and to keep working on our projects. Coming back to LU was the best option since we can access to all the services and help the university makes available to students. The Enterprise Centre was and still is very supportive. We also managed to get our own office on campus through Furness’ Mind Your Own Business and that makes working together much easier.

At the end of April, we sent the application for HAX incubator and a week ago we had the first interview with them, we still have work to do and another interview in the next few days.At the same time we applied for a IoT startup bootcamp in London a few days ago, we are still waiting for the outcome.


If you’d like to apply to the Lancaster University Enterprise Fund too, why not take a look at our funding pages here to find out more?