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High street family hub scheme wins Entrepreneurial Barnet Competition

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The winner of the Entrepreneurial Barnet competition has been announced after four aspiring entrepreneurs vied for the £3,000 first prize at the grand final on Wednesday 3 April.

Entrepreneurial Joanne Merchant (centre), Founder of When I Grow Up, is pictured with Entrepreneurial Barnet Judges (from left to right): Business Inclusion Co-ordinator at NatWest Sharniya Ferdinand, beauty company MD Vanessa Fernandes, Steve Leverton of business finance specialists Cornmill Associates, and Terry Magennis from Hammerson (co-owner of Brent Cross).

Entrepreneurial Joanne Merchant (centre), Founder of When I Grow Up, is pictured with Entrepreneurial Barnet Judges (from left to right): Business Inclusion Co-ordinator at NatWest Sharniya Ferdinand, beauty company MD Vanessa Fernandes, Steve Leverton of business finance specialists Cornmill Associates, and Terry Magennis from Hammerson (co-owner of Brent Cross).

The competition, now in its sixth year after being launched by Barnet Council to boost the borough’s business talent, attracted record levels of interest.

The final winner was Joanne Merchant with her forthcoming high street hub When I Grow Up, providing an appealing play, support and community space for families with young children.

Speaking shortly after her victory was announced, she said: "I feel shocked and overwhelmed and really happy. I wasn't expecting to win, and it hasn't quite sunk in that I have. I have never won anything before!

“I am so happy with all the support I have received tonight, but also over the past year from parents locally. It has just been amazing, so thank you." Her winners' cheque will help pay for the lease she has just signed for a premises. In a couple of years' time, she hopes to be opening her second hub, she says.

Finalist Zak Morrison, a first year undergraduate Psychology student at Middlesex, presented plans for his start-up Mono-Designs, which sells clothing and bags printed with artwork inspired by pop art, gaming, and Japanese “otaku” culture. Mono-Designs will market itself online and at fan conventions and fairs. Longer-term, Zak hopes to open up a London outlet where customers can design their own T-shirt or hoodie and get it printed at the store on completion.

Zak says he will use data capture and analysis to work out what his potential customers like and what they don't like. "I've been told I have a strong entrepreneurial mind" he says. He has developed digital games and since arriving at MDX he has established a STEM Society open to all students. He and his co-founders will press on with the business - they have booked a space to sell their products at MCM Comic Con in six weeks' time.

The other finalists were Avinoam Baruch with Previsco, a Loughborough University spin-out which offers real-time, street level flood prediction based on a unique self-improving forecasting model, and Anthony McCollum with Foodwatts, a nutrition/food selection App. All received a runners-up prize of a £500 cheque.

There were 70 over-all entries, from students at Middlesex and Barnet and Southgate College and from borough residents with either a business idea, or an existing business or social enterprise less than two years old. Forty-nine cleared the elevator pitch stage. Judges of the Business Model Canvas stage at NatWest’s Accelerator Space say the standard was very high and struggled to narrow the shortlist down.

The competition is a joint venture between Middlesex, Barnet and Southgate College and Barnet Council, generously sponsored by Brent Cross Shopping Centre. The finalists made Dragons' Den-style presentations to judges Terry Magennis from Hammerson (co-owner of Brent Cross), Steve Leverton of business finance specialists Cornmill Associates, NatWest Business Inclusion Co-ordinator Sharniya Ferdinand and beauty company MD Vanessa Fernandes, a MDX Master’s graduate. As competition winner, Joanne Merchant will receive mentoring alongside £3,000 to invest in her business.

Last year’s winner Marie Farmer, who designed an App for parents to monitor their children’s food intake called Mini Mealtimes, says she was “immensely proud to have won the Entrepreneurial Barnet Award. It was encouraging to hear that so many people believed in the idea”. Over the past 12 months she says she has had to learn how to boot strap a business, meaning that she had to work at some point on every aspect of the business by herself.

In 2017, MDX Creative Technology Master's student Andre Thompson won with Student Light, an App and web platform to connect individual students, student communities and leaders at HE institutions, to empower them to drive change with a particular view to improving mental health.

Chris Barnes, General Manager of Brent Cross, said: “We are delighted to support the Entrepreneurial Barnet competition for what will be the fifth year in a row. The initiative provides local entrepreneurs and students in our community a fantastic opportunity to kick-start their business.”

Barnet Councillor Daniel Thomas, Chair of the Assets, Regeneration and Growth Committee, said: “It’s great to see so much entrepreneurial talent in our borough. I would like to congratulate the finalists, and everyone who has taken part in this competition. We are proud to be able to promote and recognise the entrepreneurial spirit of people in Barnet in this way.”

The final was held at Hammerson PLC HQ at King's Place, near King's Cross Station.

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