Young entrepreneurs take their mobile ticket to ride to UK competition final

Buying a Metro ticket at the touch of your mobile phone is the innovative business idea that has landed its young inventors from Sunderland a place in the national finals of an enterprise competition.

Eight second year University of Sunderland computing students beat off competition from 1,700 undergraduates to win through to the final of the Santander Business Start Up Awards 2013 with their mobile phone ticketing solution called ‘SoloTicket’.

Bringing together the best Young Enterprise business ideas from across the HE sector, the awards final, held at Level 39, the new Technology Accelerator Centre at Canary Wharf, involved students presenting their business ideas to a group of judges taking on the role of potential investors with £100,000 capital to invest in the most promising business idea.

The students’ ‘SoloTicket’ concept was to enable mobile phone users to buy Metro tickets through a mobile phone app. Once the ticket was purchased, the user would then be able to scan their phone at the ticket barrier to gain access to the Metro network.

This ticketing system concept would enable mobile phone users to avoid any queues at ticket machines, particularly at busy times and could, long term, reduce the need for ticket machines on the Metro system and other underground transport networks.

What was particularly innovative about the students’ concept was the simplicity of the interface, the immediacy of the ‘ticket on demand’ process and the fact that it is a sustainable solution to ticketing on transport systems, used by millions of passengers every year.

Team leader and software developer Krzysztof Sroka said: “Presenting our software idea to the panel of judges was a real eye opener. It gave us an opportunity to see what software development companies must do to present their business ideas in order to secure the capital investment needed to take their ideas forward. Understanding that your competitors are trying to take that investment capital away from you, really makes you focus on ‘selling’ your product to the judges as an innovative and viable solution.”

Finalists had to submit an ‘Investment Proposal’ prior to the competition and on the day had to present their innovative business idea through an exhibition stand, a 10-minute interview ‘Dragon’s Den’ style – and were also required to do a ‘pitch’ to the judges, other competitors and invited guests, which numbered over 200 people.

In the Investment Proposal, finalists had to provide an overview of their business idea including an executive summary, business strategy, high level cost benefit analysis, business model, business case and high level plan for achieving their projected cash flow.

The early stages of the competition involved over 1,700 undergraduate students in 330 new companies or ideas for companies, and Sunderland were the only finalists with an innovative software idea. The team included students from several programmes, pulling together the expertise needed to envision, design, develop and evaluate this kind of sophisticated mobile solution to ticketing on large transport systems. Led by Krzysztof Sroka (Computer Science), the team included Sheehab Ahmed (Network Computing), Bethannie Cockburn (Business Computing), David Cox (Computer Forensics), Ian Elliott (Computing), Daniel Hamilton (Games Development), Matthew Lane (Computer Science) and Sarah Russell (Computer Forensics).

The team developed their business idea through their Level 2 studies on the CET206 Software Engineering, Enterprise and Innovation Project, a module undertaken by all Level 2 computing students. Led by Caron Green and a team of academic tutors, the module assimilates students from all computing disciplines to work in a team context to develop an application for a real world client.

This experience of working with clients to design applications for real users, gives computing students an invaluable experience of what it is like to develop systems, improving their employability profile and giving them the confidence they will need as the computer professionals of the future.

Caron Green explained: “For our second year students to win through to the final of a Young Enterprise business competition against such stiff competition demonstrates the value of teaching enterprise skills to our undergraduates in computing. Software innovation is particularly challenging, and to come up with such a good idea and then have to sell it in such a high stakes environment, is a remarkable experience for these young people to have at this point in their undergraduate programme and has dramatically improved their confidence levels.”

As well as generating innovative business ideas, the software innovator really has to be able to communicate and sell their idea, often to investors who may not understand the complexity of the technology involved or the sophistication of the user experience required.

As Dr Les Kingham, Sunderland academic tutor, said: “Level 39 lies at the heart of one of the most important financial districts in the world. The students had to present their business idea to a large audience including an imposing panel of judges and they really rose to the challenge, explaining the background to their business idea and stressing its benefits as a green solution to ticketing.”
As a key partner in the Sunderland Software City project, the importance of the University of Sunderland in helping to inspire, encourage and empower the next generation of computing professions is critical.

Alastair Irons, Head of the Department of Computing, Engineering and Technology, said: “To fulfil our long term goal to consolidate Sunderland as a ‘Software City’ we need young computing professionals with the ideas, the vision and the temerity to compete against the best in the world. We are delighted that our students won through to the Santander Young Enterprise Awards 2013.”

David Dunn, Chief Executive of Sunderland Software City said: “A huge part of Sunderland Software City’s role is inspiring and developing the next generation of software talent and helping local young people see software as a realistic and rewarding career option.

“The North East software industry will only continue its recent rapid grow if enough local talent comes into the industry, and the region’s colleges and universities play a vital part by ensuring students are given the right education and environment to develop.

“I never ceased to be amazed at the groundbreaking and innovative ideas students from our local universities generate, and its exciting to think that this competition could be the very start of the North East’s next software success story.”

For full details of computing programmes at the University of Sunderland visit www.sunderland.ac.uk or telephone 0191 5153000.