Six South West Entrepreneurs Named Among UK’s Most Innovative

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A fish skin tannery and a business making furniture from plastic lids are among the green ventures from South West entrepreneurs to win funding from the Government’s innovation agency.

Six young business people from the region have each received a £5,000 grant from Innovate UK to develop their ideas after being announced as winners of the organisation’s Innovator Awards 2021/22.

The winners, all aged between 18 and 30, will also receive one-on-one coaching to help scale their businesses from Innovate UK EDGE, as well as an allowance to help cover their living costs.

The Young Innovators Awards programme, which is delivered by Innovate UK in partnership with the Prince’s Trust, has been allocated £2.2m over three years to entrepreneurs seeking to tackle society’s pressing challenges.

Indro Mukerjee, chief executive of Innovate UK, said: “Diverse teams, with people from different backgrounds constructively challenging each other, are fundamental to breakthrough innovations.

“This makes the UK’s population diversity a potential competitive advantage, so we will continue to work hard to fully harness this potential.”

The South West recipients of this year’s awards all have a climate change focus to their winning projects.

In no particular order, here are the six successful South West winners:

Eva Gilder-Hodgson, Bristol

Bristol Plastic Factory founder Eva Gilder-Hodgson.

The graphic designer’s business, Bristol Plastic Factory, creates furniture and homeware products, such as stool and table tops, using shredded and heat-pressed bottle lids.

Founded during the national lockdown in January 2021, the side project operates from the In Bristol design studio on Barton Hill trading estate.

Ms Gilder-Hodgson is a founder and director of Blue Coats Studio, which provides branding services for purpose-led and socially responsible businesses.

Albie Baker-Smith, Bristol

Albie Baker-Smith of CarbonRoots.

The University of Bristol computer science graduate is developing a software platform that helps people to grow trees on unused land.

Mr Baker-Smith’s business CarbonRoots is currently running a small pilot project in Ghana, and is also working alongside companies in the UK to offset their emissions.

Antonia Gillett, Gloucestershire

Felise founder Antonia Gillett.

Felise founder Antonia Gillett.

Ms Gillet’s Stroud-based company aims to make use of the millions of discarded salmon skins thrown away in the UK each year by turning them into leather.

Felise uses a traditional bark tanning process to transform the skins into leather accessories, such as wallets, that it will sell on its soon to be launched online shop.

Ms Gillet taught herself how to tan fish skins in 2020, after returning home from working for a small business in Zambia, due to the spread of Covid-19.

The entrepreneur started the venture to help sustainably fund conservation projects, and currently supports the Wye and Usk Foundation, a trust that works to protect ecosystems of the two Welsh rivers.

Joe Garret, Dorset

Mechanical engineering student and entrepreneur Joe Garrett.

Mechanical engineering student and entrepreneur Joe Garrett.

A mechanical engineering student at the University of Birmingham but hailing from Dorchester, Mr Garret has designed a wind turbine for domestic use.

Mr Garret is developing his product AuroGen, a Vertical Axis Wind Turbine, conjunction with this final year project.

Benjamin Gibbons, Dorset

Dorset-based entrepreneur Benjamin Gibbons.

Dorset-based entrepreneur Benjamin Gibbons.

Alongside fellow social entrepreneur Connor Winter, Mr Gibbons founded start-up Circular11, after the pair were forced by the Covid-19 pandemic to return to the UK from Nepal.

They had been working with rural communities in the South Asian country to reduce the damage caused there by plastic pollution.

The pair are aiming to help developing countries with technology that uses waste plastic to make building materials.

The eco bricks are designed to slot together in a way that allows non-specialists to meet international safety standards.

On their return from Nepal, the business partners from Wimborne converted an old Hovis Bread van into a workshop where they began to develop their product.

Jess Strain, Bristol

Bristol-based textiles designer Jess Strain.

Bristol-based textiles designer Jess Strain.

The textiles designer is using waste fabric, dyed with locally-foraged plant matter, to develop hats, tote bags and soft furnishings.

Ms Strain is aiming to offer an alternative to large fashion brands which she says provide little product source transparency.

She will work alongside her Innovate UK EDGE mentor to define her manufacturing process, prototypes and reporting methodology.

Ms Strain said: “I want to open the discussion with consumers and enable them to demand more of the high street giants.”

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