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Eco-friendly active wear sees DMU students clinch Fox's Lair™ title


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Sustainable active wear made from bamboo and hemp fabric proved to be the cream of the crop of this year’s Fox’s Lair™ competition, clinching the 2021 title at an awards evening in the Hugh Aston Building.  

The Fox’s Lair™ is De Montfort University Leicester (DMU)’s biggest student business competition and follows a similar format to Dragons’ Den but sees an overall winner crowned.

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Winners Holly Jeffcott and Patrick Midwinter with event organiser Andrew Nicholson and Louisa Hayes of Champions UK PLC

Gymlux, composed of Introduction to Enterprise and Entrepreneurship students Holly Jeffcott, Patrick Midwinter and Alexander Montgomery, was named as the 16th winner of the annual competition. They lifted the Fox’s Lair™ shield and received a £1,000 prize, courtesy of chief sponsor UK Champions PLC for its sustainable leggings.

Bamboo is fast-growing and doesn’t need chemical fertiliser to encourage growth. The plant is crushed and broken down by natural enzymes before fibres are combed out and spun into yarn.

Having scooped the top prize, Holly and Patrick expressed their surprise claiming they didn’t think would be in with a chance of winning.

Holly said: “We’re in complete shock. When we finished our pitch, we felt it hadn’t gone too well. One of our team dropped out during the pitch and the we were all very nervous before going in.

“However, I feel that as a team we all complimented each other really well. I led the presentation, while Patrick broke down our financial plan and explained our target market.

“More young people are looking for ways to help the planet and the sustainable clothing market is starting to boom. People working from home now are also looking for something comfortable to work in - it just seemed like too big an opportunity to miss.”

View the full gallery of the Foxes Fair here

Each year, first-year students from the Business and Law faculty are invited to enter the Fox’s Lair™ to pitch their business proposals as part of a course module. Approximately 70 groups across seven courses braved the Lair vying for this year’s crown.

Impressing the Foxes is no easy feat however, as the panel is made up of CEOs and business leaders from across the country. In groups of no more than five, students must pitch an original business idea complete with three years’ worth of accounts, product pricing, marketing campaigns and insights into their target market.

The Foxes then rank the groups on the quality of their pitch, shortlisting the final three before deciding on an overall winner. ADVOCATE was named as the runner up for its idea to create a website specifically designed for people with dyslexia, while Astrobaby secured third place for a Nova Light a childcare entertainment system business.  

This year’s challenge was made even more difficult by the Covid-19 restrictions imposed by the government. The business pitches, which are made in March, had to be completed online, forcing the budding entrepreneurs to coordinate their presentations over Microsoft Teams.

Despite the restrictions, Andrew Nicholson, Associate Professor of Enterprise and organiser of the Fox’s Lair™, was incredibly impressed by the quality of entries in this year’s competition. He particularly praised the students’ industrious nature to help overcome the challenges of pitching through Microsoft Teams.

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Andrew Nicholson speaking at the start of the awards ceremony

He said: “Choosing a winner this year was very difficult because there was very little to separate the top three. Ultimately, the Fox’s decided that Gymlux’s logistics operation was not only thoroughly researched but realistic and achievable – often this is where students can fall down.

“We had a fantastic Fox’s Lair with students being very creative to make up not being face to face when pitching to our Foxes. The Fox’s Lair is very special as it allows all first-year students to experience a real business experience.

“Anyone will tell you that it’s hard to coordinate a pitch in person, but over Microsoft Teams there are factors outside of the students’ control in play.

“We’ve had students presenting from their car on mobile data because their wifi was down and others calling in the middle of the night from countries like China and India due to the time difference. It shows you how important these pitches were to students.

“It just goes to show the value of a well-coordinated team. More than anything, the competition teaches students about team building and the importance of working towards a big goal. After all, that is what working in business is all about and this competition is a great way for our students to demonstrate their experience to a future employer.”

The evening also saw the inaugural Val Nicholson award presented to the group with the most creative and innovative pitch, as judged by DMU staff. Val was a valued member of the Fox’s Lair™ organising team and sadly passed away last year.  

Speaking before the awards evening, Andrew paid tribute to his wife Val and expressed his gratitude for being able to dedicate an award for her creativity.

He said: “For many years, Val helped organise the competition and encouraged students to be as creative as possible with how they presented in front of the Foxes.

“She was always very intrigued to see what the students could come up with, so as a university, we felt it was a fitting tribute to reward them for their innovative ways of conveying their information.

“To present her award in front of her son and sister is such an honour for me and will make a fantastic night even more enjoyable.”

The Val Nicholson Award was won by Ben Hancock, Joey Field and Sakinah Amidu of Mercury Subscriptions, who claimed the £150 prize for creating a short video at the beginning of their pitch.

Ben impersonated celebrities in a tongue-in-cheek attempt to endorse their business idea; an app that allows a customer to make only one payment for goods delivered from different stores.

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Ben Hancock and Joey Field pick up the first-ever Val Nicholson Award

But while it was an evening of firsts, there was also a significant last as Andrew, who has been involved in the Fox’s Lair™ since 2009 and as the module leader from 2016 its debut was in 2004, steps away from organising the competition. 

He hands over the reins to Simon Hill, who will be running the competition for the 2021/22 academic year. Andrew will still be organising the sister Fox’s Lair™ competition, which is open to secondary school children aged between 13 and 18-years-old.

“This has been my pride and joy for the last few years,” Andrew said. “I will miss the journey of teaching new students from their first days at university to seeing them pitch a really good business idea to real business.

“I’m very glad that I’ve been able to meet these brilliant students in person. An online ceremony just wouldn’t have been the same and wouldn’t have been a fitting way to bow out. 

“I may help out with the Lair as one of the Foxes in future events but I haven’t committed to that just yet.”

Posted on Monday 15th November 2021

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