The district’s brightest sparks win a slice of £40,000 business support

The Spark Harborough judges and category winners during the grand final at Hothorpe Hall last night.
The Spark Harborough judges and category winners during the grand final at Hothorpe Hall last night.

Three winning companies were crowned last night (Thursday) in a competition that discovered the Harborough district’s top entrepreneurs and supports them to commercial success.

Taking the top titles after the Dragons’ Den-style final at Hothorpe Hall last night in the Spark Harborough business ideas contest were as follows:

Spark Harborough

Spark Harborough

Best new business idea for the under-25s age group:

William Prentice of Elite Scooters, Great Glen.

Best new business idea for the over-25s age group:

Michael Thomas of Pioneering Networks, Market Harborough.

Growth idea for an established business:

Stefan Richter of Muchosmedia Ltd, Kibworth.

Each of the category winners successfully pitched their ideas to a live Spark audience at the Theddingworth venue. They will now all go on to share a £40,000 prize package that includes a year’s free office space at Harborough Innovation Centre, business coaching delivered by Oxford Innovation (which runs the innovation centre) and a host of business support services and resources donated by local companies.

William Prentice of Elite Scooters, the winner of the under-25s category, said: “I’m over the moon. I really wanted something to help me kick-start the business and winning this award is really going to do it for me and give me all the guidance and support I need.

“I’m really happy to work in the district. I want to employ people in the area – there are even skating parts available in Market Harborough like George Halls Cycle Centre, so I’ll be hoping to get my products in there.”

Walking away with the over-25s category crown was Michael Thomas of Pioneering Networks, who said: “I was very nervous on the night but now I feel great. Getting the sales and marketing support is going to boost my skills beyond belief.

“We do have plans to take on a part-time admin person in the first year and later we will take on our first technician.”

Stefan Richter, of Muchosmedia Ltd, said he was excited to have taken the best growth idea for an established business title.

He said: “Even without winning, the Spark process was really good. We had to think about where the business was going and what we had to do to make it happen. It was a really good experience.

“Hopefully we will now be able to take on staff, maybe part time initially, work on the product and then work on sales to expand into school and universities.”

Selecting the three winners on a Dragons’ Den-esque judging panel, were: group managing director of Harborough firm King Vehicle Engineering Limited Mark Carrington, leader of Harborough District Council Cllr Blake Pain, the chief executive of Market Harborough Building Society Mark Robinson, the managing director of Harborough’s Vanilla Recruitment Eloise Shelton and Harborough Mail editor Neil Pickford.

The level of talent in the under-25s category caught the attention of Mr Carrington and town business man and chairman of Harboro Rubber Company, James Briggs, who both pledged to personally mentor the winner, Elite Scooters, and the runners-up, Pocket Pal.

Mr Carrington said: “Everybody talks about how difficult decisions were and this was a difficult decision. It’s a shame there couldn’t be two winners in each category because they all had serious propositions to think about.

“I think there are opportunities out there for all these businesses.”

The competition, designed to stimulate growth and jobs across the Harborough district attracted entrants in all three of its categories, far exceeding all of Spark’s targets and expectations.

Rachel Panther, of Oxford Innovation, which runs Spark on behalf of Harborough District Council, the owners of Harborough Innovation Centre, congratulated all the winners and companies that were shortlisted.

She said: “We’ve worked with the finalists for a number of weeks now to help plan and define their strategies and financial route map and the quality of their business plans has been amazing.

“The amount of commitment they have shown to this process is a fantastic indication of the drive and passion they all feel for launching and growing their business.”

Harborough district is already home to more than 4,400 businesses, three quarters of which employ four or fewer people.

The Spark business support initiative, run for the first time in Harborough in 2013/14, aims to support both established businesses to grow as well as encourage new business ideas and products to market launch.

Leader of the district council, Cllr Pain, said: “Harborough district is a highly entrepreneurial district but too many of our residents have to travel elsewhere to work and too many large employers have left us in past decades. We must focus on growing more successful businesses here in this community and also developing the right business environment so that others are attracted to our area and relocate their businesses to the Harborough district.

“Entrepreneurs are the ones with the great ideas and are prepared to go for it despite extreme conditions of uncertainty. They are the ones that will create future businesses, bringing wealth and jobs for our families.

“We need to encourage and support that behaviour and that is exactly what Spark has been about. It really is a great initiative.”

See the Mail on Thursday for more on the Spark final and keep your eye on our website over the coming days for pictures and a video from the night.

Story by Alex Blackwell

Follow Alex on Twitter, @BlackwellHarb.