Pizza lover earns a crust with mobile business

44 budding entrepreneurs have started up new businesses this year with support from Staffordshire University

Alex Dawson has converted a vintage Bedford truck into a mobile pizza business

Starting a business from scratch is never easy. Our hard-working and inspirational start-up businesses, have not just started but thrived during the COVID pandemic and resulting lockdowns.

Clair Hameed, Be Inspired Programme Manager

The Be Inspired scheme helps graduates across the region turn their business ideas into a reality by providing the practical skills and know-how to get off to a flying start.

This year’s cohort celebrated the culmination of their studies in virtual showcase ‘Start-Up GradEX’ with gold, silver and bronze prizes awarded to those who impressed industry judges from the British Business Bank and NatWest.

The top prize of £1,500 went to former English teacher Alex Dawson who is bringing a taste of Italy to the Staffordshire Moorlands and beyond. After suffering a sudden cardiac arrest in 2018 forced Alex to leave his teaching job at Denstone College, he took on a role with Lichfield Diocese but was made redundant when the COVID-19 crisis hit.

Forced to look for an alternative career Alex decided to turn his passion for pizza into a living by transforming the family’s vintage 1967 Bedford truck into a mobile restaurant. Bedford & Basil pizzas are freshly cooked in a traditional wood-fired stone oven using only locally sourced ingredients and have been served to customers across Staffordshire throughout the pandemic.

The 29-year-old from Checkley said: “I’m still shocked that I won – it was only a year ago that I came up with the name for Bedford & Basil in the back of my notebook! I applied for the scheme as I had no previous direct experience in business. I hoped it would enable me to grow and develop alongside the business. The programme has offered me a platform to learn and gain a deeper understanding of the nature of owning, running and growing a start-up business. In addition, the mentorship has been a great support.

“I began the course with a standard model pick-up truck and a vision to transform it into a vintage artisan mobile pizza oven. Since then, we have created a brand identity, restored and converted the truck and have been operating through the winter and third lockdown. We are currently busy taking bookings for events during the summer and ahead.”

Silver prize and £1,000 was awarded to Shereen Powell whose business The Sweet Bartender offers a range of alcoholic treats for adults in the form of cocktail-inspired boiled sweets, with bronze prize and £500 awarded to both Jemma Nathanson-Wiley and Julie Bricknall.

Jemma has launched Weddit Films, a video editing company that helps wedding guests capture footage of the big day on their phones and turns it into a professional wedding video, while Julie’s company Inspired Mindset Ltd delivers workshop, webinars, coaching and peer group support on wellbeing, leadership and personal effectiveness topics.

Clair Hameed, Be Inspired Programme Manager, said: “Starting a business from scratch is never easy. Our hard-working and inspirational start-up businesses, have not just started but thrived during the COVID pandemic and resulting lockdowns. It has been an absolute privilege to play a part of their ongoing success, and the success of the regional community and economy which they feed into.”

Part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund, the year-long programme is open to graduates of Staffordshire University and graduates from other universities who live in Staffordshire.

Start-Up GradEX was sponsored by NatWest and all winners will receive exclusive access to their Entrepreneur Accelerator to support their growing businesses. A long-term partner of the Be Inspired Programme, NatWest also provides a range of resources to those enrolled through its Business Builder.

Clair added: “We don’t stand alone; we work very closely with industry partners because it is important for our start-ups to understand how business works in the real world. We have regular guest speakers and everyone on the Be Inspired programme is paired with an industry mentor to guide them and ensure that they have an investment-ready business by the time they leave us.

“Our relationship with NatWest is also incredibly valuable and provides our students with a range of additional help to get their businesses off the ground. With 41 new businesses enrolled for next year we are excited to see what comes next!”

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