Cambridge University Entrepreneurs is seeing an increasing number of students interested in setting up their own companies, following a spell where the lure of safe jobs in industry threatened to stifle ambition.CUE reported last year that many students were preferring the safe harbour of well paid jobs with established companies to the risk of going it alone with their own innovative ventures.
But on the eve of a landmark year for CUE, it has seen the entrepreneurial spirit revived.
CUE vice-president Jun Chen told Business Weekly: “Although it is inevitable that some students are still hesitant about starting their own ventures – it can seem a very tough road when they do not know where to start – we are definitely seeing more and more students interested in entrepreneurship.
“Even though many may not start up their business immediately, a good number of students have the intention of starting their own venture in the years to come.
“Our mission is to encourage all those students to realize their entrepreneurial dream by guiding them through the process. The prize money we are offering is not huge, but the training process we offer is invaluable to our entrants.
“The competition experience and resource they gain lead them to the next stage of development. We cater to our students’ needs by teaching them from the very basics to setting up a real business model.
“In order to inspire more entrepreneurial students to join our competition, we are organising a new co-founder speed dating event this year, to pair up students who have ideas and students who don't have ideas but are eager to start up their business.”
The grand launch of this year’s CUE Competition on Thursday (October 13) cross-pollenates startups that have made it big commercially and alumni that have had their first taste of the limelight.
A high profile panel of speakers and business leaders include Lord Karan Bilimoria, founder and chairman of Cobra Beer, Dr Darrin Disley, CEO of personalised medicines pioneer Horizon Discovery and Dr Shamus Husheer – CEO of Cambridge Temperature Concepts and a CUE alumnus.
The launch event will also showcase CUE alumni companies that have started their entrepreneurial journey with CUE and gone on to make their business ideas great successes. Billy Boyle of Owlstone Nanotech has pitched into that element of proceedings.
Boyle and Husheer will be joined by more recent alumni, including Jimme Jardine of Qiqqa, which had a brilliant run of success in local entrepreneurship competitions this summer, including CUE’s own grand finals.
Qiqqa is a software tool designed for academics. It manages documents and notes effectively, visualises ideas and find insights you might otherwise have missed.
Another star of the show will be Monkey Tower Ltd, founded by alumnus Dr Alan Watt, which designed an innovative unfolding scaffolding system; ideal for jobs that have traditionally been done by scaffold towers, cherry pickers, scissor lifts or ladders. It can be put up by a single person within five minutes of arriving at site. It is small, easy to be towed, human powered and unlike scissor lifts or cherry pickers has no batteries to go flat or replace and no electronics or hydraulics to maintain.
Alumnus Emmanuel Carraud and his company Magic Solver are also in the mix. Magic Solver is a young and growing startup creating a fun way for users to discover cool apps every day. The company creates and develops its own apps - 25 in the 18 months it has been operating. It selects the best apps from developers worldwide and gives them unique visibility inside its own magic apps.
Also on parade is Winter Willow and founder Roger Fowle. As a new social enterprise, Winter Willow has already been successful in raising funds. It offers opportunities to cultivate, manage and sustain willow stocks - which can then be designed crafted and delivered as woven products - such as baskets, garden structures and even woven willow coffins.
CUE has been boosted by gifts of cash, time and kind from a number of sponsors. Horizon Discovery is sponsoring the special Biotech and Life Siences Prize in the Entrepreneurship Challenge. Red Gate Software is sponsoring the software stream of the competition and ARM the technology stream.
EPSRC is backing the General Innovation prize - any entries that don't fit in the above three streams – and accountancy practice Ensors has agreed to provide free consultancy. The Trinity Cambridge Science Park has also joined in the fun and has agreed to award office spaces for winners in the Innovation Centre.
• For more details and to check out further CUE events in a busy calendar, visit www.cue.org.uk