Judging the Mayor’s Entrepreneur competition

4th April 2016

Choosing the Mayor’s Entrepreneur

Professor Carolyn Roberts of The Knowledge Transfer Network is a judge for the Mayor’s Entrepreneur. She shares her experiences from five years of the competition…

The Mayor’s Entrepreneur Award asks students to come forward with ideas to cut carbon emissions. Now in its fifth year, I’ve seen lots of ideas, pitches and businesses set up as part of the award.

Arthur Kay pitched and won the first-years award. His idea, Bio-Bean, takes waste coffee grounds and turns them into advanced biofuels and bio-chemicals. This saves money on waste disposal and displaces fossil fuels. It’s a simple yet, utterly brilliant idea. Arthur’s just opened a second factory, joining the first in Cambridgeshire. The new facility produces liquid biofuels, fuel pellets and medicinal products from waste coffee grounds. And Arthur’s still in his early twenties!

Other winners have followed since. Their range of products and services includes paperless receipts, clothing recycling and shelf life indicators for food packaging. Even some that didn’t win have used their experience to go ahead with new inventions. This includes a modular smartwatch which was actually crowdfunded over the internet!

It’s a heady mix of technical innovation and ‘new business systems’ ideas that yields winners. For me, it’s a real privilege to be involved. This year’s competition, sponsored by Citi, attracted record numbers of entries from students of all ages. The panel of judges last week unanimously agreed that the quality had been exceptional. The team at City Hall had clearly worked hard to persuade an even broader range of London universities and colleges to take part.

First, the tech-savvy panel had to skim off the ever-present perpetual motion machines and ‘energy-from-nowhere’ entries. The finalists then pitched their ideas to senior business people at City Hall. This year’s winner was a team of three postgrads from Imperial College. They had developed a novel domestic insulation material using waste feathers from the poultry processing industry. Close behind were teams and individuals with business-ready ideas about electric vehicle battery reuse, haptic navigation, engine design, and air pollution apps. If they can follow in Arthur Kay’s footsteps, they could be on their way to becoming big green businesses of the future.

And before you ask, no chickens were hurt in the making of the winning material. Well, no additional chickens, anyway.