Aston Business School champions pitch-perfect small businesses looking for growth


Entrepreneur Byron Dixon and Microfresh, an innovative technology business producing unique anti-bacterial coatings, came out on top with the Best Pitch award at a major new pitching competition run by universities in the West Midlands. 

Over 80 small businesses applied to win an enviable opportunity to put their business ideas in front of eligible investors in Pitchfest, part of Venturefest West Midlands at the NEC Birmingham on 30th June. 

Aston University, in partnership with the University of Birmingham and the University of Warwick, gave entrepreneurs from their networks and across the West Midlands an opportunity to present to a select group of Venture Capitalist, Bank, and Business Angel investors looking for businesses to invest in and help to grow. 

Applicants took part in an early series of short-listing rounds when they pitched to expert panels of investors – putting to the test both the viability of their business plans and their own ability to pitch effectively. Workshops were held at the universities to help entrepreneurs develop their pitching technique. 

Nearly 50 entrepreneurs pitched in the heats, and the investor panels whittled these down to just 15 finalists who presented at the Pitchfest finals to an audience of investors, entrepreneurs and innovators at Venturefest West Midlands.  Venturefest was a major new event put on by Birmingham Science City together with the universities in the region and supported by Innovate UK.  It was the first Venturefest to be held in the West Midlands and attracted almost 500 delegates to the NEC. 

Pitchfest finalists were split into three categories – Early stage, Launch and Growth, and entrepreneurs in each category had just 7 minutes to present their best case for investment, followed by intense questioning from an expert panel of investors.  Panel members on the day included senior representatives from the UK Business Angels Association, Midven, Mercia Technologies, Ascension Ventures, Innovate UK, Santander, Seven Investment Management, Minerva, Business Growth Fund, Blue Sky Corporate Finance, and the Syndicate Room.

Chosen by the Pitchfest Judges, the winners in each category received trophies sponsored by Santander Corporate and Commercial, Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses, BizzInn and Minerva.  The winners were: 

Early stage – James Richmond, Roompik – an app utilising a mobile first – Facebook© log-in approach – to help city room/flat sharers find others they’ll love to live with.

Launch – Paul Blackburn, Aston Eyetech – selling innovative eye testing equipment and decision support software to optometrists.

Growth – Byron Dixon, Microfresh – the application of anti-bacterial technology that extends the life of fabrics.

Each of the winners were invited to pitch for an opportunity to win the coveted Best Pitch Award – the most investable pitch, as voted for by the audience. 

It was Byron Dixon of Microfresh  who won Best Pitch with an engaging pitch of his highly scalable, anti-bacterial technology enterprise. Byron said: “I'm so passionate about what we do at the company that speaking to a room full of potential investors was not difficult, I actually enjoyed it.” 

Short-listed applicants who didn’t make the final still had their moment at the event with a series of speed 60-second pop-up pitches, and an opportunity to showcase their business in the Marketplace – a networking opportunity for all Venturefest delegates. 

This successful event attracted potential investors from across the West Midlands and London, giving business owners a rare opportunity to put themselves forward to a broad range of potential investment in their growth. 

Paula Whitehouse, Director of the Centre for Growth at Aston University commented: “Pitchfest gave us the opportunity to showcase some really exciting business ideas from early stage to growth and to enable businesses seeking investment to connect with investors and other entrepreneurs.  We are tremendously grateful for the many investors who were involved on selection panels, and look forward to working with our colleagues at the University of Birmingham and the University of Warwick to develop an even greater Pitchfest event in 2016.” 

Business Bios 

Byron Dixon – Microfresh (Growth and Best Pitch Winner) 

An established business with proven award winning technology; this extends the life of fabrics the application of anti-bacterial technology.  Looking to expand UK business and also expand into US market. Looking for £500K 

Raised in Leicester by Jamaican parents, he came through secondary education with 3 A Levels from the ‘acclaimed’ Mundella School on the east side of the city. Playing football and playing with chemistry kits were his penchants and aside from eating and sleeping that explains his childhood through to adolescence. 

Corium Solutions Ltd was started in Oct 2001 and became incorporated in June 2003 as a leading supplier of finishes for leather, footwear, upholstery and handbags. Byron had worked for ICI Leather Finishes Division for 13 years before being headhunted in 1997 to work for ECCO shoes based in Denmark as their Head of Global Finishing covering tanneries and shoe factories in Thailand, Japan, Indonesia, Singapore, Denmark, Slovakia, Portugal, Italy and China. 

Corium Solutions Ltd have established strong trading relationships with many of the UK’s best known retailers including BHS, Marks & Spencer, Brantano and Next Retail. They also work closely with brands such as Kickers, Mothercare, Alfred Dunhill, Ted Baker, ECCO, Nike and Reebok.

Micro-Fresh is an award winning product range that restricts the growth of bacteria and was established as a division of Corium in 2007. Many high street names have incorporated this into their footwear, clothing and homewear to give them a marketing edge and Micro-Fresh has gone on to be the main growth area of the business. Its universal capabilities have resulted in substantial growth for the Corium Group. In 2015 Microfresh made its debut at John Lewis with the launch of an exclusive new bedding range in 30 stores across the country. 

More here:

Paul Blackburn – Aston EyeTech (Launch Winner) 

Aston Eye Tech are selling innovative eye testing equipment and decision support software to optometrists. Looking for £500k for ongoing rollout of services.

Paul worked in advertising and marketing for 20 years before founding his own business. His marketing experience includes FMCG brand management, marketing consultancy and directorships of advertising agencies in England and Scotland. In 1997 he founded his own business producing health information and health education software for the NHS. A new division of the company became the market leader in supplying touchscreen-based patient check-in systems for NHS hospitals, and still is. Paul was appointed Executive Chairman of AEL in 2013 (a full time role) and is delighted to bring his skills and experience to a new area of the medical world. 

More here:

James Richmond – Roompik (Early Winner) 

Roompik is an app utilising a mobile first - Facebook log-in approach - to help city room / flat sharers find others they'll love to live with. It takes the hassle out of finding the right place and people, allowing you to quickly search and find what you want in a share. Raising £300k in two tranches or £200k in year 1 and £100k in year 2 

Roompik is a cross between AirBNB, GumTree and Tinder. Our free, mobile only approach makes the spare room market more efficient by enabling spare room hunters to assess potential housemates like Tinder whilst also getting important room information. We’ve all had bad housemates before; Roompik reduces the likelihood of a bad experience.