By Daniel Hunter

An enterprise campaign and a leading British retailer have revealed plans to offer emerging British businesses regular opportunities to pitch their products to top buyers, after a pilot project uncovered a wealth of UK-based talent on Tuesday.

StartUp Britain and John Lewis made the announcement following the unprecedented success of an experimental joint initiative that saw 400 innovative UK-based businesses apply for just 12 places to get in front of buyers.

Anna Rigby, John Lewis’ Head of Buying, Home Accessories and Gifts, said: “This has been a truly exciting initiative to be involved in and we are delighted that so many start-ups have engaged with us through this scheme. We look forward to rolling out PitchUp events every six months and working proactively with an even greater number of talented entrepreneurs.

“We were so impressed with all the finalists. We saw a real cross-section of ideas and behind them sat a strong pool of very talented and professional start-ups. We are going to give them all an hour’s mentoring with departmental buyers to provide advice on how they can maximise their products for the retail environment. ”

StartUp Britain co-founder Emma Jones said: “This is amazing news for start-ups! Securing the opportunity to get in front of buyers can be one of the biggest hurdles for small retailing businesses starting out. It can take months and sometimes years of work, and time is often something start-ups don’t have.

“Furthermore, the advice, guidance and mentoring the John Lewis buying experts are able to provide can be key in helping these start-ups shape future success.

“It’s also a really great example of what a difference can be made when big helps small.”

The 12 finalists in the PitchUp initiative were: innovative hair-care products Concoction, which offers a mixology-style cocktail of bespoke shampoos and conditioners; designer clothing brand Sir Plus made from unwanted factory off-cuts or ‘cabbage’; GiftTin — a quirky tin filled with British-made, hand-picked gifts; high-tech pushchair prototype designer Ruk-bug; rain-hardy soft furnishings that can be left out all summer-long by Oily Rag; Beecycle’s recycling kit is already in production and includes an educational toy that teaches children about the principles of composting; a brand new digital kitchen appliance; Love Me Sew, handpicked fabrics for crafty people; KareCot — a prototype and re-think of the traditional cot, designed with safety in mind; Halo Heels — a patent-pending footwear invention; OraGuard Ltd’s Nano-b-Toothbrush - and finally Hunted & Stuffed hand-made cushions made from upcycled vintage materials including tea-towels.

Amongst others, the buying panel expressed an interest in exploring Beecycle Ltd’s recycling educational products and provided feedback and suggestions for improvements.

Beecycle’s Managing Director Kenneth Cheung said: “The pitch itself went well and the feedback the John Lewis panel provided was priceless. They seemed to like my product, which I was chuffed by. They also gave me some really useful guidance relating to my packaging, which I’ll be addressing straight-away.

“I look forward to working more closely with a John Lewis buyer when I return for my one hour mentoring session. I was so pleased to make it to this stage of the competition. I had bundles of nervous energy on the day but fortunately it was much more relaxed than I expected.”

Other brands that excited the panel included Love Me Sew, a Leeds-based craft business with community credentials. Founders and old friends Emily Carlill and mum to two-week-old Toby, Sam Lowe, made an ‘excellent, very professional pitch’ and will be hooking up with the store’s haberdashery buyer.

Sir Plus was also cited as a promising line for the retailer, the owner, Henry Hales’ brand of boxer shorts, waistcoats, T-shirts and knits are made using tasteful factory off-cuts that would otherwise be wasted and proved a hit.

Anna added: “Henry had a a very engaging pitch. The mentoring from our fashion team will help him to develop his brand and his product portfolio for the long-term.”

The buying team observed that buyers in early prototype stage should give consideration to whether they will be looking to manufacture their product themselves, or sell the license for their inventions ahead of any pitching to buyers. Judging the right time to pitch in the development process is also critical. On the day , the panel found a couple of the concepts too far off from production.

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