Manchester entrepreneur triumphs in national start-up comp

October 22, 2014

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A young entrepreneur from Manchester has triumphed at one of the UK’s largest entrepreneurial competitions this weekend after taking home the top prize of £10k in start-up funding to run his own business, Zymurgorium, a locally sourced drinks business.

Using ingredients from the local environment to make drinks like ‘Moss Cider’, Aaron Darke, 23, battled it out on Cambridge High Street across Friday and Saturday against seven other finalists. His passion, vision and business model, combined with the highest takings from across the weekend, helped make his business stand out from the crowd to be crowned the overall winner.

The competition, called TestTown, devised by Carnegie UK Trust, provides young people with access to vacant high street units around the UK, allowing them to showcase their new business ideas in one of the country’s largest ever entrepreneurial competitions.

The concept of TestTown came following organisers believing that the idea could help make ‘Boarded up Britain’ a thing of the past if town planners removed barriers preventing young people from starting new high street businesses.

Organisers believe that high business rates, legal fees and planning constraints are preventing young entrepreneurs from opening their own shops, despite many towns needing rejuvenation after slipping into significant retail decline.

The finalists of TestTown 2014 made £16k in profits across just two days in Cambridge. Overall, the TestTown teams took £34,000 in profits across six regional TestTown heats, including the final, to support their new businesses.

A special £1k award was also given to TestTown runner-up, Colleen Reid, 25, from Fife, for her progress made from the regional heats of TestTown. Colleen won the TestTown Kikintilloch competition and her business, Tigerprint Tees, offers a jungle themed café for children where they can design their own t-shirts and accessories.

Some of the other businesses* that traded during the final, hosted by Cambridge Business Improvement District (BID), included a vintage clothing business, a popup exhibition and marketing space for an online apprenticeship matching service and a gourmet marshmallow business.

Aaron’s title of overall TestTown winner comes following him also winning the regional TestTown heat in Manchester earlier this year.

Jim Metcalfe, TestTown UK Programme Leader, said: “This weekend has demonstrated that young people with good ideas have the ability to deliver an effective solution for vacant high street units. The concept of a pop-up shop may not be new but pairing with vacant retail units, it provides a resolution to the ‘boarded up Britain’ epidemic which has and continues to affect town centres across the country.

“All of our finalists should be immensely proud of themselves; they have worked their socks off but their drive and determination has resulted in increased footfall to Cambridge town centre and a solid grounding for TestTown to be implemented in other parts of the country.

“We congratulate Aaron on the success of being crowned the TestTown winner. It’s without doubt that his business idea has the strength to go extremely far and we wish him and all of the contestants the very best for the future.”

Aaron Darke, 23, winner of TestTown 2014, said: “I am absolutely thrilled to have won the competition. It has been a fantastic journey from winning the TestTown regional heat in Manchester earlier this year, to winning the overall final in Cambridge.

“I’ve learnt so much about my business over the last few month’s thanks for the Carnegie UK Trust and the other supports of the competition; it has definitely helped me to refine the products I offer. I am now looking really forward to the future of Zymurgorium and potentially opening a shop in Manchester the near future!”

Test Town 2014 was supported by NatWest, Worldpay and Havelock Europa. Join in the town centre debate @TestTown2014 / www.testtown.org.uk