Are these Britain's best new business ideas?

Turning used coffee grounds into fuel, airmiles for cyclists and toys for children suffering from depression were at the forefront of Britain's biggest business idea competition

A firm which turns coffee beans into fuel has won a coveted small business competition.
London-based start-up Bio Beans beat off nearly 50 other early stage businesses to win the annual The  Pitch Live event on Wednesday.

The 13 hour event, held in Bristol, was founded in 2008 and is one of the UK's longest-running competitions for small businesses. In the competition, run by business website, fifty short-listed entrepreneurs went head to head in a pitching battle watched by 250 investors.

The event first began as a small local event which was part of the Bristol Design Festival and featured companies pitching for £1,000. “The vision was, ‘let’s do Dragon’s Den’,” recalled Pitch founder Dan Martin. However, after the pitch videos were posted on the internet, interest grew and in 2009 the event was taken around England.

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Arthur Kay (centre) with The Pitch Live judges The organisers soon added Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. “We’ve held it in the Belfast Opera House and at the Edinburgh Fringe,” said Dan. “Part of the idea is to showcase a different part of the UK, but the companies are from all over the UK.”

Run by ambitious new graduate Arthur Kay, winner Bio Beans aims to turn used coffee beans from London coffee shops into biodiesel and biomass pellets. The business was set up after Arthur won a category in the Mayor of London’s Low Carbon Prize, an initiative to encourage students to come up with ways to cut carbon emissions in London.

“Arthur only graduated this year and is already making money,” says Dan. “The nature of the business is a bit different. He’s starting in London but the potential for this is massive.”

Arthur’s prize includes a year’s worth of business mentoring from serial entrepreneur Karen Darby, one of The Pitch Live’s core judges. Karen sold her comparison website SimplySwitch in 2006 to the Daily Mail for £22m and is now launching crowd funding site

Seven other winning businesses will get a share of a £270,000 investment pot funded by the event’s investment panel which includes Horatio Investment, based in Glastonbury.  

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Other winning business ideas included Karisma Kidz, run by Erika Brodnock, which designs online games and toys to help children suffering from depression and anxiety, and, set up by Ry Morgan, which provides employee engagement software for companies to help encourage staff to cycle more.

The company has a smartphone app which enables company employees to earn ‘air miles’ for cycling and plans to roll it out for consumers in the near future. “All of these business have a social mission of some kind,” said Dan.

After the lengthy pitching session, the start-ups also got to network with high profile investors in their sectors, many of them personally introduced by one of the event’s judges, entrepreneur Lara Morgan, a finalist in the Veuve Clicquot Businesswoman of the Year Award.

 “Investors come to the event from all over the UK,” explained Dan. “It’s that kind of networking that’s really powerful.”