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Graduate start-ups awarded six-month business development packages

Two graduate start-ups are awarded valuable, six-month business development packages worth £20,000

14 November 2022

A business pre-accelerator offering coaching and mentorship, equity-free grant funding and tailored business development, START UP Founderships is a competitive and prestigious opportunity for recent graduates with an ambitious early-stage start-up.

Introduced in 2014 as a valuable initiative to support entrepreneurship, START UP Founderships has so far helped 39 graduates to begin 30 start-ups. Between them, the 17 businesses still active have raised almost £30M investment, generated over £66M in turnover and created 608 jobs (HE-BCI Survey results 2020-21).

The graduate founders of Hard Yards and PolyBox now join this impressive community, having been awarded packages of support worth up to £20,000 to drive their businesses forward. The START UP Founderships programme is made possible thanks to the generous support of the university’s donor community.

Hard Yards

Established by Harry Carr, who graduated with an MBBS in Medicine and a PgCert in Medical Education, James Barker who graduated with a BA (Hons) in Geography and their co-founder Chris Carr, Hard Yards provides game-changing performance sports accessories to help athletes at any level, in any sport, unlock their full potential. The founding team combines years of sports engineering, advanced material science and new product innovation to bring positive disruption to the sportswear industry.

“Hard Yards is there to be the world’s best sports accessories company. We’re here to change the way that athletes think about that product. Since we launched, our first products have been adopted rapidly by pro players from the England cricket team, Marnus Labuschagne (No.1 Test batsman), the GB hockey team, and our local pro Basketball team, The Leicester Riders. It’s incredibly exciting to see our kit on world-class athletes and we’re finding most of our traction this far has been through word of mouth between players which is even better,” said Harry.


Co-founded by MSc Digital Business graduates Rojin Yarahmadi and Nick Benopoulos, PolyBox automates receipt reconciliation with dynamic reporting tools to help retailers and consumers gain improved insight and control over their finances. Their data-driven tech solution is breaking new ground and aims to transform the retail space toward a paperless future.

“PolyBox exists to eliminate mundane tasks with an advanced solution to recording expenses, saving people from time-consuming, repetitive tasks that limit their creativity, productivity and morale,” said Nick.

Claire Adamson, Start-up Manager, commented: “START UP Founderships is about supporting innovation-driven entrepreneurship. Hard Yards and PolyBox join an impressive community of alumni who are making their mark. The credibility, drive, and commitment that all the co-founders have is so inspiring. I look forward to supporting them to develop and grow their companies”.

Rising to the challenge

START UP Founderships has a competitive selection process that looks at business viability, scalability and the commitment of the individuals who apply. Applicants are required to pitch to a panel of experienced entrepreneurs to demonstrate the strength and ambition of their opportunity, developing their business skills in the process. Having been selected, the chosen founders have now begun an intensive six months to help them advance toward their goals and build solid foundations for their companies.

James commented: “The next six months will be challenging in terms of testing us and pushing us along the way to where we want to be, but it provides us with some solid structure, which is what we need at this stage”. Harry added: “We want to be in a position where, at the very least, we’re in front of investors if not raising capital at that time. That’s the goal for us".

Rojin commented: “I really believe that Founderships can help us find our market... With support from both START UP Founderships and the National Innovation Centre for Data, we’re in a unique and well-positioned place with access to some leading-edge resources and brains. We recognise the value of these partnering opportunities, which will allow us to really accelerate over the next six months, and we’re grateful for the doors they’ve opened so far. The North East is a great place to start a business with a fantastic start-up community and many opportunities available”.

A boost of confidence

Pitching to panels and meeting with advisers and mentors can be daunting but ultimately rewarding for the founders who are constructively challenged to broaden their perspectives, build their resilience and develop their business propositions. Throughout the duration of the programme, they will be held to account by those who have ‘been there, done that', which can often be more valuable to them than the funding they receive.

Simon Green, Chief Executive of Edge Innovation and Chair of Innovation SuperNetwork and Rural Design Centre, is one of the advisers involved in this year’s programme. He commented: "I am really enjoying working with the two START UP Foundership teams this year. They are very different in terms of sector and stage of development but both show huge potential. The founders are capable and ambitious, which makes for a formidable mix. Just as importantly, they recognise the value of external input and are keen to learn through the process”.

“It’s given us quite a lot of confidence that we have something... Somebody has taken a chance on us... I think that bit of accountability pushes you a little bit more”, said Harry.

“We needed to convince someone who is way more experienced than us that our idea is worth it, and I think that it gave us a little bit more belief in ourselves”, said Nick.