Twelve British start-ups win the chance to pitch to major high street retailer

The twelve were chosen from hundreds of entries in PitchUp – a pilot project between enterprise campaign StartUp Britain and retail giant John Lewis – with the aim of giving more emerging British businesses the chance to get noticed. The pitch day is next Tuesday October 23.

StartUp Britain co-founder Emma Jones said: “We were astonished at the number of exciting and innovative new businesses that entered this initiative – and it’s refreshing and reassuring that big companies like John Lewis are prepared to take the time to check out what’s on offer in the British start-up sector.

“It’s every entrepreneur’s dream to get their products onto John Lewis shelves and we wish them all the best!”

The finalists are: Innovative hair-care products Concoction, which offers a mixology-style cocktail of bespoke shampoos and conditioners; designer clothing brand Sir Plus made from unwanted factory off-cuts; GiftTin – a quirky tin filled with British-made, hand-picked gifts; high-tech pushchair manufacturer Ruk-bug; rain-hardy soft furnishings that can be left our all summer-long by Oily Rag; Beecycle’s Wiggo recycling kit to teach children the principles of composting; Cuisine Machine, inventor of an electrical appliance that can follow recipe instructions; LovemeSew, handpicked fabrics for crafty people; KareCot – a re-think of the traditional cot, designed with safety in mind; Haloheels – innovative shoes; OraGuard Ltd’s Nano-b-Toothbrush and finally Hunted&Stuffed – hand-made cushions made from lovely old tea-towels, scarves and the like.

Christine Kasoulis, director of own-brand development at John Lewis said: “We were really impressed with the standard of entry. We were particularly keen to find new products that offer innovation, function and unique design combined with a commercial edge. We look forward to learning more about the finalists and their products during the pitching process, they have already shown so much potential and it is an exciting opportunity for both our buyers and the startups themselves.”

Selected finalists will benefit from expert mentoring from the John Lewis buyers and will include practical guidance and assistance to help develop and prepare a polished final design that is ready for sale.

Julia Hunter, who once headed-up a team of ten men as a high flying gilt trader at the London International Financial Futures Exchange (LIFFE), set up Oily Rag when she gave up her job to become a mum.

Mum-of-three, Julia said: “To have the chance to show my products to John Lewis is amazing! The feedback and tips that I will receive will be invaluable in helping me to continue the growth of Oily Rag. If they decide to stock my waterproof cushions, then I would feel like I had achieved one of my goals.”

She came up with the idea of waterproof cushions when she wanted to have five minutes peace in the garden, without having to remember to bring the cushions back in afterwards.

She said: “I wanted some cushions that I could leave outside on my tatty garden bench all the time, so whenever I had a moment for a sneaky coffee in the garden, I didn’t have to get the cushions out, and then remember to put them away! I also wanted something to bring some life to my garden, when it was drab and grey. My cushions now provide loads of vibrant colour, even if the flowers aren’t out.”

PitchUp could be the big break dental technology firm founder George Tonchev has been looking for.

Although the seasoned entrepreneur has founded start-ups in his spare time, he is still looking for the one that will allow him to give up his day job. His soon-to-be-launched nano-technology toothbrush is his passion and could be his key to becoming a full-time entrepreneur.

He said: “This is an incredible opportunity – and I can’t wait! The spark that gave life to the Nano-B antibacterial toothbrush was seeing the largely un-met desire out there for innovative dental health products. My dream to start my own business and my desire to get explore new technologies is what drives me.”

George and Julia are up against former Apprentice contestant Alex Epstein’s start-up, a personalised hair care business called Concoction.

Alex said: “Starting a business eventually was always part of the plan – kind of a dream
that I’ve always wanted to bring to fruition. I started working on Concoction in 2010 after being made redundant. It’s been an amazing journey.

“At first people told me that what I was trying to do was impossible. So many people tried to put me off. I literally trawled the UK looking for the very best cosmetic chemists who could help develop my ground-breaking hair care system, so this means a lot to be able to pitch to John Lewis, it really does.”

The competition is part of a wider StartUp Britain initiative called StartUp High Street, launched earlier this year, which saw the national campaign offer co-funded retail space to online start-ups via empty high street shops. So far PopUp Britain has seen 34 start-ups co-working in an empty estate agents shop in Richmond, Surrey. The campaign has just announced plans to roll out its pop-up blueprint to areas around the UK, helping to rejuvenate flagging high streets. Ten are expected to open before Christmas.