"These days are the best days that I have, when I meet inspiring young people who are just starting out. To come back to Stoke has been amazing, it's going back to grassroots for me and I love it."
Sarah Willingham, Entrepreneur and Honorary Graduate
Potteries born businesswoman Sarah Willingham visited Staffordshire University this week for a day of activities with aspiring entrepreneurs.
The former star of BBC show Dragons' Den was made an Honorary Doctor of Staffordshire University last summer and returned to host a breakfast discussion where she spoke about business resilience and shared what motivates her to achieve.
Students from Staffordshire Business School then battled to be named 'Willingham's Winners' in a Dragons' Den style competition. Six teams of students were challenged to develop a product or service that could be marketed to businesses in Staffordshire then present their ideas to a panel of judges.
Professor Liz Boath and local entrepreneurs Ben Dyer, Managing Director of Inspirational Learning Group, and Mark Blackhurst, Director of Digital Next joined Sarah on the panel.
The winning business idea 'Crafted' makes and supplies vegan, gluten free and dairy free cakes to industry – and the judges had chance to sample some of the confectionary on offer.
“The student entries were great, we were so impressed by the standard and we could tell that a lot of work had gone into them. It was a hard decision but we went for Crafted because they are so on trend at the moment.” Sarah explained.
“We loved the vegan and gluten free angle – and you know what, it's not often that vegan and gluten free cake tastes that good! If they can work out their route to market then there's a gap for business there.”
Tom Lewis, studying BA (Hons) Business Management, was part of the winning team. He said: “It was nuts because I know Sarah from the TV but I've presented before and kept my nerve! It's very cool because it justifies that our business it a good idea, it gives you a big confidence boost.”
Sarah provided all the teams with individual feedback on their projects before opening the floor for a Q & A session for staff and students.
She added: “These days are the best days that I have, when I meet inspiring young people who are just starting out. To come back to Stoke has been amazing, it's going back to grassroots for me and I love it. There is nowhere that makes me feel as welcome as coming back to Stoke and to Staffs Uni.”
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