Hemp business plan scoops Aber PhD student £10,000

Thursday 14th April 2022 12:29 pm
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Jamila La Malfa-Donaldson
Jamila La Malfa-Donaldson (Aber Uni )

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A BUSINESS proposal to produce hemp products has scooped an Aberystwyth student a £10,000 prize.

The business plan and pitch by Jamila La Malfa-Donaldson, a postgraduate student researching industrial hemp, won her a £10,000 business investment sponsored by alumni of Aberystwyth University, through the InvEnterPrize student business ideas competition.

Her food and cosmetics brand, ProHempOtic, will offer a range of products derived from organic hemp with added plant-based ingredients, aimed at supporting health and wellbeing.

Jamila’s business idea also secured another of the competition’s coveted prizes, a year of office space at the Aberystwyth innovation and enterprise campus, AberInnovation.

Aber Innovation campus
The Aberinnovation campus near Penrhyncoch opened in 2020 (Aber Uni ) (Aber Uni)

She was also awarded a £500 prize for rural business sponsored by the Growth in Rural Resilience and Innovation Network (GRRaIN).

Five of this year’s twelve entries were shortlisted by the judging panel, who studied business plans, listened to pitches, and deliberated over the submissions.

All five finalists have been awarded £1,000 by the university, from its Research Wales Innovation Fund grant from the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales.

A separate prize of £3,000 sponsored by Engineers in Business was awarded to Thomas Breeze, a Computer Science postgraduate, who showcased an innovative modular robotics concept, BreezeLabs.

The judging panel included several Aberystwyth University graduates who have gone on to have successful careers in business.  They were also joined by last year’s InvEnterPrize winner Karl Swanepoel, who graduated with a degree in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics in 2021.

After securing investment in his business idea in InvEnterPrize 2021, Karl’s company Revolancer, a freelance marketplace that connects skilled freelancers with ambitious businesses looking to grow, has gone from strength to strength.  As well as helping to judge this year’s entries, Karl also donated a £1,500 Revolancer voucher as a prize for the finalist whose business idea would benefit the most from freelancer support, such as design work or website development.  This prize was also awarded to ProHempOtic.

Following the prize-giving, Jamila La Malfa-Donaldson said: “The opportunity to enter, let alone win, the InvEnterPrize competition has given me a life-changing opportunity I am very grateful for. To prepare for the competition, I worked with Big Ideas Wales business advisor Julie Morgan, I attended all of the online workshops led by Aberpreneurs and took part in the BioAccelerate programme run by AberInnovation.”

Jamila is studying for her PhD at Aberystwyth University’s Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS), and has been developing testing processes, and cultivation and processing methods of industrial hemp for therapeutic compounds.

The 29-year old from South East London has already been making plans on how to use her investment funding: “I intend to spend the prize money on research and development activities for the product line, testing the products for their safety and nutritional content, as well as developing the brand and an e-commerce website and blog. I’m excited to grow a team of freelancers through Revolancer. I am also taking part in the Productivity to Prosperity programme run by AberInnovation to develop a recipe for a novel hempseed drink.  I look forward to continuing to work with Julie Morgan, who is now working with Antur Cymru Enterprise, to test the product line in a pop-up Trading Space in Aberystwyth town centre this summer.”

Organised annually by the University Careers Service, this year’s InvEnterPrize contest saw entries from entrepreneurial students and groups of students from across the University, who submitted a wide range of business ideas.

There were product design concepts such as a smart cane aid for blind people and a weight harness for kettle bells; online enterprises including a music and chat platform and a styling platform; software to assist with the creation of virtual tours; a healthy lung app to help patients to manage their disease; a shop selling environmentally conscious products; and a seed and seedling development company.

The University’s Careers Consultant and Entrepreneurship Champion, Tony Orme, said: “A decade on from its launch, InvEnterPrize continues to be one of the most exciting student business idea competitions in the UK.  The added value of the competition is that, whilst they are developing their business plans, entrants are given the opportunity to attend workshops and presentations to hone their enterprise skills and access to free one-to-one start-up mentoring from Big Ideas Wales.

“The quality of this year’s finalists has certainly lived up to expectations - congratulations to each of them.  Our thanks go to the Aber alumni whose generous donations fund the main prize, and of course to our fantastic judges. It was great to welcome back last year’s winner, Karl Swanepoel, whose success with Revolancer we are eagerly following.  We wish Jamila all the very best as she develops her business.”

Chair of the InvEnterPrize judges, Peter Gradwell, who graduated from Aberystwyth with a degree in Software Engineering in 2002 and founded business communications company Gradwell Communications Ltd and more recently, a mobile network (IQ Mobile Ltd), said: “The alumni ‘Dragons’ were delighted to be back to assess another fantastic range of innovative business ideas from Aber students. The entries highlighted the diversity and tenacity of student business, covering business opportunities such as fitness, entertainment, mental health, biomedical sciences, tourism and robotics. Congratulations to our overall winner Jamila, who delivered a clear presentation and comprehensive business plan to bring to market an innovative range of hemp based products, leveraging both an exciting consumer healthcare trend and the University’s experience in developing industrial hemp.”

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