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Graduate start-ups given business boost

Published on: 19 October 2023

An app to earn cashback on online purchases, an all-in-one ticketing and social media platform, and a farm transforming the lives of young people have all won a package of support from the University.

The three ambitious start-ups by recent graduates are to receive up to £20,000 in support to drive their business forwards as winners of Newcastle University’s START UP Founderships.

Founderships is a programme for ambitious, growth-orientated companies and social enterprises supported by the University’s donor community.

The three companies, Appre, Guester and Solidarity Farm CIC, were selected after pitching to a panel of experienced entrepreneurs to demonstrate the strength and ambition of the opportunity, developing their business skills in the process.

They will be offered coaching and mentorship, equity-free grant funding and tailored business support over six months.

Winners L-R John Harrison, Lewis Herdman, Connor Tipping & Jack O'Donnell


Co-founded by Newcastle University graduate Lewis Herdman (BSc Hons Marketing & Management, 2023) and Northumbria University student Connor Tipping (Civil Engineering Degree Apprenticeship), Appre is a mobile app that enables active shoppers to earn cashback on online purchases and to grow this cashback by investing it into risk-based investment funds. Appre’s mission is to make investing less expensive, less complicated and more familiar for first time investors, improving accessibility and promoting financial security and independence.

Lewis said: “At the current stage we are beginning to generate traction from brands and potential early adopters. Throughout the Foundership programme, we hope to increase traction with more users signed up to Appre’s waitlist and more brands on board. We want to be in a position to attract third party asset managers and savings providers towards Appre as we look to form strategic financial partnerships. We would also like attention on us, with more connections and presence in the regional start-up scene.” 

Appre co-founders (l) Connor Tipping and (r) Lewis Herdman

Solidarity Farm CIC

Solidarity Farm Community Interest Company (CIC) was founded by John Harrison, a graduate of Newcastle University’s BSc Environmental Science, 2001 and Executive MBA, 2023.Solidarity Farm CIC’s purpose is to transform the lives of young people at risk of exclusion from education across the North East through the social and therapeutic value of farming. Using agriculture and other meaningful activities in natural surroundings to promote therapy, rehabilitation and social connection, Solidarity Farm supports young people aged 13 to 16 to re-engage in education.

John explains: We’ve begun the journey; I’ve developed quite a bit of the infrastructure and set up as a Community Interest Company, a CIC. Now we’re piloting a residential camp with another local organisation, Off the Grid CIC, who work with a lot of groups, and we hope start working with schools from October. I want to develop the business model and the offer for young people, so by the time I get to the end of the Founderships programme I’ve got a solid, sustainable social enterprise that can carry us forward and make our vision a reality.”

John Harrison of Solidarity Farm CIC


The innovative all-in-one ticketing and social media platform, Guester, is co-founded by Newcastle University graduates Sam Nanda (BSc Maths with Finance, 2021) and Jack O’Donnell (BSc Computer Science, 2021).

Guester seamlessly integrates ticket purchasing, photo sharing, social interactions, and event discovery into a single, user-friendly app. It aims to revolutionise and enable grassroot companies to create, sell and promote their events, enabled by enhanced event discovery, amplifying everyone’s event experience.

“We’re currently in the concept and market research phase, with a few initial wireframes designed,” said Sam. “By the end of the Foundership, we aim to have our MVP developed and beta tested, which will allow us to acquire our first customers and start generating revenue post Foundership.

“The long-term aim is to progress onto another accelerator programme or gain investment to develop the full Guester app with all its intended functionality and features. Once the full app is launched, we’ll start expanding to other student cities outside of Newcastle.”

Jack O'Donnell co-founder of Guester

“really exciting businesses”

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.

Simon Green who is a Founderships mentor and founder of Edge Innovation said: “Having been involved with Founderships for many years, I love seeing how the founders grow over the programme and create really exciting businesses. This year’s cohort is varied in sector, but all have the potential for significant success, both financially and socially. I can’t wait to work with them over the coming months.”

John Harrison, founder of Solidarity Farm CIC

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