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Reading University Sustainability £100k Prize For Entrepreneurs

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A competition run by the University of Reading is offering sustainability entrepreneurs the chance to win up to £100,000 worth of support.

10 finalists have been shortlisted for the just IMAGINE if… competition. The international social enterprise research grant was devised by the University’s Chancellor, Paul Lindley, to back business ideas that address global challenges with research and business support from the University and Henley Business School, worth up to £100,000.

Lindley is a successful entrepreneur himself, having founded leading baby and children’s food business Ella’s Kitchen in 2006. He said: “The just IMAGINE if… competition is a fantastic way of giving entrepreneurs, and their sustainable businesses, the boost they need to make a real difference in society.

“The finalists for this year’s competition offer a wide range of genuinely innovative ideas and I am looking forward to hearing the final pitches in March, when we will select our winner.”

The competition is run with support from Lindley Foundation, Hogan Lovells, Meaningful Business and One Young World.

just IMAGINE if… has so far granted two awards, in 2019 and 2022. These included helping a south American start-up develop a sustainable dairy-free drink, and a supporting a non-profit business producing sustainable emergency shelters for people displaced by violence or natural disasters.

The 10 finalists for 2024 include:

1. Kolatat Phaiboonnukuklkij of Phytavaren Technology

Phytavaren Technology is a property technology startup in London, founded by Reading alumnus Kolatat Phaiboonnukukij.

It specialises in building thermal dynamics research and development and developing eco-friendly building materials.

This includes its revolutionary Interlocking Semi-Calcite Passive Brick, which is made of shells and waste glass and plastics, provides effective insultation and uses less plaster during construction due to its interlocking shape.

2. Martin Kiyeng of Ubuni Green

Ubuni Green, based in Kenya, turns natural fibres into highly absorbent nappies, and uses a business model where customers in wealthier areas subsidise the nappies for more deprived families.

The compostable nappies are made from agricultural waste, including pineapple, maize husk, bamboo fibre and banana fibre, which are abundant in Kenya. They do not contain bleach or chemicals and biodegrade within six months of disposal – 1,200 times faster than conventional nappies.

3. Joseph Orya of Peddle Innovation Labs

Peddle innovation Labs has developed a portable and solar-powered classroom in a box to provide access to quality education for marginalised communities in Nigeria.

Millions of refugee girls, women and young people in remote areas lack consistent access to education due to conflict, displacement, and economic constraints.

The digital classrooms accommodate at least 50 mini-computers and an AI platform offering lessons in 100 languages.

4. Georgette Mukeshimana of Kira-heal Rwanda

This project aims to provide justice and mental health care to victims of sexual and domestic violence and others in Rwanda.

Georgette plans to establish mental health clinics all around the country, offering free counselling and support to take sexual violence cases to court.

5. Samantha Mureau of Planet of the Grapes

Planet of the Grapes transforms wasted grape skins from organic vineyards in France into grape leather products for the fashion and lifestyle industries.

This material uses no harmful chemicals and will biodegrade at the end of its useful life.

6. Felix Weaver of Thiiia

UK-based Thiiia has created Ultra Rapid – a video-learning animation technique that presents information visually alongside music, making it easier to process.

The tool allows those who may struggle with traditional teaching, including neurodivergent learners, a more equal opportunity to flourish.

7. Aristide Kambale of KiotaData

KiotaData helps micro, small, and medium-sized businesses and agricultural cooperatives in the Democratic Republic of Congo to gain access to finance and international trade.

The digital platform was developed by ikiotahub Ltd and the Research and Scientific Expertise Center. It helps businesses to overcome these two major barriers to success by connecting them with buyers and suppliers across the country on its digital marketplace and simplifying cross-border transactions using a mobile app.

8. Will Wilson of Zero Waste Silage

Zero Waste Silage is developing biodegradable alternatives to single-use plastic sheets used in agriculture to preserve animal feed.

The company has developed two alternatives which use far less or no plastic to create the large sheets used to protect silage – chopped grass or maize that is a staple food for cattle.

9. Kenneth Uche of Smokeless Briqqs Energy Solutions

Smokeless Briqqs Energy Solutions produces eco-friendly briquettes and cooking stoves from waste materials, addressing the need for affordable and environmental meals in Nigeria.

The eco-friendly briquettes burn for longer than ordinary charcoal, and contribute to reducing deforestation.

The stoves are made from metal scraps and electronic waste, can cook twice as fast as a traditional stove, and even convert leftover heat into electricity to charge phones or provide lighting for the home.

10. Joshua Kao of Living Water Systems

Living Water Systems has created the world’s first rainwater catchment units that fit onto the roofs of relief shelters in refugee camps, where water contamination is a major issue.

Rainwater is already a clean natural water source, but the units also filter out residue from the shelter roofs, giving refugee families access to clean water.

More information on each of the just IMAGINE if … finalists can be found online.

The finalists will now get support from experts before presenting their pitches to a panel of judges on 20 March, and then an invited audience at an awards evening on 21 March at Greenlands campus. The combined judges’ and audience scores will reveal the overall winner on the night.