This article was originally posted on the Tech North website.
The latest Northern Stars showdown of startups had Sheffield’s audience hanging by a thread throughout an evening of competitive pitching.
Union St provided an ideal space for the audience to network with each other and the ten selected companies who represented a rich diversity of local talent and digital innovation.
With the buzz of the event in full force pitching began. Each 3 minute delivery kept the energy high as contestants battled it out to be recognised as worthy enough to be crowned this week’s Northern Stars winner.
Each contestant sustained a fantastic performance backed by strong business acumen with Dave Cates owner of Foodbank App taking first place.
Can you give me some background on you and your company?
I’m an engineer and have been an entrepreneur since an early age. I started coding aged NINE and have always been keen to merge my technical skills with growing businesses. I came to Sheffield to be a student at Sheffield University and I studied Electronic Engineering. I then went on to work for BT within their broadcast engineering team.
Currently I’m the founder of Redemption Media, an award winning software development and consultancy business. Based in Sheffield we work internationally with clients ranging from startups through to large corporates such as the BBC, AstraZeneca and Novartis.
We are in the process of spinning off a couple of our products into their own corporate entities. The Foodbank App project is one of those and is currently on the DotForge Impact accelerator programme.
I’m also the Chair of Governors for a Sheffield primary school – ranked in the top 100 in national league tables – and am very keen to see our national education curriculum include much more technology-related content. I want us properly to prepare the next generation for work in the technology industry.
What are you working on right now?
We are currently working on increasing the number of subscriptions for our Foodbank App platform. But we’re also focussed on making the platform available to any other charities or organisations that need to engage with their supporters more effectively and looking to provide a simple and easy way for donors to give. We’re also looking to expand globally and wanting to work with large agencies and NGOs. We think this platform could revolutionise how supplies are requested and received by organisations working in disaster zones and other areas where traditional solutions are impractical. We believe our platform can increase engagement with donors and supporters but also ensure that any donations of goods or finance are inline with requirements and needs.
Where did your idea come from?
The Foodbank app started out as a CSR type project within my app development company, Redemption Media. A friend of mine (Jude Stone) and I came up with the idea of an app for Foodbanks after realising our local Foodbank struggled to maintain a consistent volume of donated food and the donations they received were often not exactly what they needed – tons of baked beans and not a lot else!
Working with our local Foodbank over a 12 month period we evolved our initial prototype and then launched nationally 18 months ago.
Explain your business model
Currently Foodbanks pay £300 for 24 months access to our platform. The iOS and Android apps are available via free downloads within the app stores. Foodbanks will shortly also be able to pay via a monthly subscription model.
As we grow the platform and increase the number of organisations using it there will be other financial models to suit the customer. For large international NGOs the platform and the financial model may well be very different.
What’s been the single biggest highlight for your business?
Being able to help Foodbanks and other charities become more effective. For some Foodbanks, their donations increased 100% in just the first month and one Foodbank received over £1000 of financial donations in just one week last through the integration of JustGiving within our app.
It’s brilliant to be able to have this level of impact by using our skills and experience to provide this technology for such low cost to such a valuable charity.
What was it that about Northern Stars that encouraged you to engage with them?
I am very excited about Tech North, and think if we can replicate what Tech City UK has achieved in London then it will be amazing for the North of England. We have some brilliant universities here and yet we too often lose our graduates to London or other global centres for technology.
Northern Stars is a great opportunity to show the local and also the global community just what is going on in each city. We need to show the world that great innovative businesses and ideas already exist here and we just need more visibility and investment.
I pitched our Foodbank app project to not only raise awareness of the project and hopefully to attract investment but also to help inspire others to pursue their business ideas too.
Has there been any businesses or entrepreneurs that have inspired you?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have grown up in a very entrepreneurial family. From a young age I have seen family businesses both thrive and struggle as the economy and other factors have changed.
My parents have been great business role models teaching me huge amounts by just being themselves. My mum is an award winning saleswoman who has been self-employed for large parts of her working life. My father progressed from being a retail apprentice with no qualifications through to being a managing director of an import-export company in Nigeria and then onto to his final position as a board-level executive within a large retail company.
Other than that Alan Sugar is a major inspiration. In the technology scene it seems everyone is keen to think that there is a new way to do business that the traditional models don’t work anymore and are outdated. Technology has disrupted business and many sectors which on the whole has been great and much needed but, I firmly believe that the core basics of business remain.
At the end of the day, business is about doing something or providing something that someone is willing to pay you more for than it cost you to deliver. That’s it. That is the approach I respect about Alan. He says it how it is. It doesn’t matter if you’re selling bricks, iPads, burgers or the latest SaaS tooling. You still have to convince someone to pay for it, you still have to make a profit. Otherwise, in my mind, you don’t have a business.
Why should investors be excited about Sheffield’s tech industry?
Sheffield has a huge amount to offer. We have two incredible world-class universities. The city is great place to live with great access to the rest of the country as well as the Peak District.
We have a long history of innovation in manufacturing but we are at the dawn of a new era where technology is the new core industry.
I get really excited by reports such as last year’s Tech Nation report which found that for every one technology job created up to six other support jobs were also created. No other industry comes close to that incredible statistic! Creating tech jobs is also very affordable compared to manufacturing or other professional jobs. Office space is also relatively cheap and the running costs incredibly low.
In Sheffield we have an abundance of vacant office buildings and retail units that could be converted into cool co-working spaces, affordable bases for new tech startup companies and funky cafes, meeting spaces and other services to support these new startups.
I just hope the Sheffield City Region LEP and Sheffield City Council realise what a great opportunity they have to make Sheffield one of the key global players in technology, rather than pumping millions into manufacturing where, compared to technology, there are limited job creation opportunities. For too long the they’ve neglected the scale of the opportunity they have and I hope with the birth of Tech North and Northern Stars the region will wake up and see just how amazing their tech community already is but also what epic potential it has on a global scale!
What does success look like for your company?
For the Foodbank project, soon to be called Donate Technologies, success is seeing charitable organisations engaging with their donors and supporters in a highly efficient and meaningful way that ultimately benefits those most in need around the world.
In addition to this, success for me is also creating a highly robust, fun and adventurous company with integrity and where people love working. I hope that is what we’re achieving at Redemption Media and I personally want to do that many times over with other business ventures during the rest of my working life
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