In this blog post we spoke to Queen Mary University of London alumna and entrepreneur Rebecca Rickwood, who graduated with a first class honours degree in Chemistry this summer. In October, Rebecca will be taking part in the finals of the Santander Universities Entrepreneurship Awards with her eco-friendly, geopolymer cement business Gement.
Rebecca (right) with Queen Mary Enterprise Manager Francesca
What made you decide to start a business?
I was starting my third year and I was feeling like I hadn’t taken advantage of enough of the opportunities available at the University, such as the societies and trips. So I made it my goal to get more involved in this side of university life in my final year. I applied for the QIncubator programme at Queen Mary in October 2018 and I was really excited to be accepted onto the programme. One of the requirements of the programme was order to pass, was that you had to have your own business idea, pitch it in front of the class and show that you’ve taken on board the information from the sessions to develop the business. The programme was fantastic and helped me learn the foundations of running a business. There are also so many useful connections available as part of the programme such as the mentors that come in each week. As someone with little prior business knowledge, it was incredibly useful in helping me start up a business.
How did you come up with your business idea?
At first I wasn’t sure what my business idea should be, but as part of my dissertation, I had been researching different cements and one of the more recent developments was the invention of geopolymer cement. This kind of cement is more environmentally friendly than ordinary cement, so I decided to make this my business project for the QIncubator class. While geopolymer cement is a really big business in Australia, this kind of cement is not used widely in the UK and there is a really good market opportunity here. In addition, using a new raw material, the cement is now able to set at a much lower temperature than before, so it is an ideal kind of cement to use in the UK.
How has the business been going so far?
I applied to Queen Mary Enterprise department for some funding in February and was successful so I’ve managed to get the business started. I’ve registered the business, had business cards printed and set up the website so that funding was really helpful in getting Gement off the ground. During the early stages, with help from the QIncubator programme, I learnt all the steps of starting the business. However, now it’s growing I’m looking for possible mentors to guide me through the next steps from looking at insurance, lawyers and negotiating in meetings with suppliers. I’m at the stage where I already have some of the suppliers I’m going to use but we need to agree on things such as prices and quantities and I’m also looking at warehouse spaces for the product.
How did you learn about the Santander Universities Entrepreneurship Awards?
In April, Queen Mary’s Enterprise Manager Izzy Obeng asked me if I’d like to apply to get onto the Santander programme. I had to create two-minute video introducing myself and talking about my business. In addition, I had to do a business model canvas outlining who your customers are and how you are unique from your competitors. The deadline was quite tight and it was exam season but thankfully, with help from Izzy on these two tasks, I was able to apply and make it through the semi finals.
Tell us about your experience of the Awards
In the semi finals at the University of Greenwich in June, I had to deliver a five-minute pitch to a selection of judges and an audience, followed by a Q&A session. Francesca and Julie from QM Enterprise helped me prepare for the semi finals by looking at and advising me on my presentation slides. They really went above and beyond to help me by doing things like Skyping me from California to help me practice my pitch. I was delighted to win the People’s Choice Award and progress to the final, which will be held in October. I’m feeling nervous and excited. I’m preparing by attending an Accelerator week at Santander, which will be three days focussing on how to advance your business and become a successful entrepreneur. Santander has also been very helpful by providing us contacts and discounted rates for various services such as office space and software. For the finals, I will be pitching how this Accelerator Week has helped my business grow.