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Student startups seal the deal at Southampton Dragons’ Den

A smart academic search platform and a Japanese learning app scooped £50,000 of investment as student startup talent was celebrated at Future Worlds’ third annual Southampton Dragons’ Den.

Six ambitious startup schemes pitched in front of a large, live audience at The Cube at Union Southampton on Saturday, seeking funding from Future Worlds’ dragon investors in return for a stake in their bright ventures.

The event, run in association with the Fish on Toast and ECS Entrepreneurs student societies, offered a fitting snapshot of the mounting entrepreneurial culture at the University of Southampton, with record numbers piling in to follow the fortunes of six promising student businesses.

The expectant crowd didn’t need to wait long to see the students seal their first deal either, as Maciej Szpakowski, Przemek Zientala and Mauro Cozzi Gasparotti opened with a confident pitch for their FuseMind platform.

Their pitch for a modern academic search tool aimed at “accelerating the discovery and creation of knowledge” soon had the three dragons – including confetti.co.uk co-founder Andrew Doe and Ministry of Sound Chairman Lohan Presencer – probing into its potential. “Can this algorithm be used outside academia?” asked Lohan, as the investors pressed the student team with questions.

DSC_0051The entrepreneurs kept their cool and showed a confidence in their innovation that kept them on the front foot through the interrogation. Soon, one dragon investor and Andrew Doe had offered £30,000 for equity in the startup and the three friends were striding across stage to shake the hands of their new business partners.

This was a poignant student startup success as the co-founders date the inspiration for forming their business back to Southampton Dragons’ Den 2016 when, as audience members, the team made it their aim to identify a business idea and build it towards this year’s event. Let’s see which budding entrepreneurs were watching this time around destined to follow in FuseMind’s footsteps in 2018.



Mechanical Engineering student Landon Vago-Hughes had the dragon investors debating whether they would join a chess party as he pitched his vision for Igglu, a community-driven events platform. “Move over Mr Killjoy!” joked Andrew Doe as Lohan Presencer – who is, of course, no stranger to a Southampton student party – cast a sceptical eye over the practicalities of succeeding in the startup.

There was no investment for the bold enterprise this time, but Landon can continue to tap into the expert advice and mentoring of the Future Worlds network as he progresses with his idea.



Entrepreneur Varun Gupta took to the stage with a positive pitch for his information-sharing app, All in, and investor Andrew Doe soon identified that the idea was targeting an events market that was “ripe for investment”. “It’s tough for apps to breakthrough,” commented one dragon investor and – after some discussion – all the Dragons declared themselves out. “It’s tough in Den!” quipped host Reuben Wilcock as the show’s first part drew to a close.

DSC_0140A record number of entries were whittled down to six startups with feedback and mentoring from the Future Worlds network in the weeks running up to the event, and the finalists included one social enterprise in the shape of Sagar Energy Solutions. Andreas Ostrovsky-Pereira presented the dragons with a solar powered fishing lamp that aimed to replace expensive and dangerous kerosene lanterns used in the night fishing industry of East Africa.

“This lamp will pay for itself,” Andreas promised as he unpacked the startup’s business plan alongside his business partner. The dragon investors applauded the ambition behind the social business but shared that they didn’t feel their expertise matched the product’s niche as they passed on the opportunity for investment.



The biggest reaction of the day from the Dragons came when Daniel Martinho-Corbishley and Jaime Lomeli unveiled their demonstration for the Aura Vision Labs startup. Audience members strained their necks on the front rows in vain as they tried to catch a glimpse as CCTV footage was transformed into annotated and accurate data of shoppers browsing through a store. “This is really cool,” exclaimed Lohan Presencer. “It’s like Minority Report!”

The startup, powered by the two PhD students’ knowledge in computer vision, “generates meaningful insights and actionable metrics” from video footage. “I can imagine all sorts of applications,” commented one dragon as the investors declared they were “neither in nor out” for the technology. Conversations will continue far beyond the Den as the incredible potential of this venture is explored.


Would you like to see all six of the startup pitches and interrogations in full?

If enough people email us on blogcontact@futureworlds.com then we will upload the extended videos online.

There was even an unexpected Dragons’ Den first this Saturday as an investor offered a bid from the floor during the negotiations for the Handy Kanji app.

IMG_7819Web scientist Travis Ralph-Donaldson saluted the Dragons with a Japanese greeting as he demonstrated his language learning app which uses intelligent stroke recognition and scoring algorithms to teach the Japanese writing system. The investors were impressed with the simplicity and scalability of the innovation that has gamified the kanji learning experience.

Andrew Doe and Lohan Presencer declared their interest in the startup and – as the potential investment and equity share was debated – Future Worlds Mentor Gordon Clyne announced his own intent from within the audience and entered the bidding. The outcome was a total £20,000 committed in the competition for the startup, which has since been raised through additional investment from a further Future Worlds Mentor.



Now firmly established as a jewel in the University’s entrepreneurship calendar, Southampton Dragons’ Den was another memorable showcase of top student talent. Plans are already in motion to make the 2018 competition bigger and better than ever before, and Future Worlds will once again be at its heart – helping entrepreneurs change the world with their ideas.

Keep an eye on Future Worlds’ Discover section for profiles, videos and updates from the student startups and look to our Engage section for announcements on how you can take part in Dragons’ Den 2018.

Could your business idea be the next startup scheme win the support of the millionaire investors?

Get in touch with Jon Nurse

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Jon Nurse

Content Manager
Future Worlds

Jon compiles the latest innovations, articles and interviews for futureworlds.com as the platform’s Content Manager. He is also helping researchers in Physical Sciences and Engineering impact society with their work as a Communications and Impact Officer at the University of Southampton. He previously worked as a Senior Reporter for the Trinity Mirror newsgroup.

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