win YES entrepreneur competition

University of Sheffield team wins YES entrepreneur competition

Grantham Scholar Chris Dutton and team win the nationwide Environment YES entrepreneur competition.

Chris and his team won with their idea for fully recyclable paper cups.

Chris Dutton, right, with his Environment YES teammates.

The team

The Sheffield team members were Jess Dunn and Grantham Scholar Chris Dutton. Both are PhD students in the Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology. And fellow PhD student Matt Wilson and postdoctoral scientist Chris Hepworth from the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences were on the team too.

The Environment YES competition

The Environment YES competition is run by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) each year and aims to provide early career researchers with experience of commercialising research and applying it to a marketable product.

Jess explained: “Each team has to pitch an imaginary start-up company, albeit one that has believable science as its foundation. We then attended a three-day workshop that included presentations and mentoring sessions from leading figures in industry. These were incredibly useful to us in learning how to develop the finance, marketing and project management skills required by entrepreneurs.”

Matt said: “Environment YES is an amazing opportunity for early career researchers to learn business skills that we wouldn’t necessarily get to learn as part of our research training. It’s been a huge challenge to learn about intellectual property, fundraising and business planning, but the support we’ve had from the University of Sheffield and NERC has been great.”

YES entrepreneur competition winning entry: recyclable coffee cups

Inspired by recent media attention on the 2.7 billion non-recyclable disposable coffee cups by UK consumers each year, the team sought a solution.

Their company, Cutico, proposed the use of a waterproof layer derived from the plant cuticle (the waxy outer layer that protects leaves). It is this layer that enables the cups to be fully recycled in the paper waste stream.

Professor Mike Siva-Jothy, Head of the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences congratulated Cutico.

“This team has worked incredibly hard to win Environment YES. They’ve done so well. It is really important that our early career researchers have these opportunities. I hope to see many more Sheffield teams participating in this and similar competitions in the future.”

Ben Ward and Giannis Xanthis from Cardiovascular Science with Grantham Scholars Hannah Sewell and James Lambert at YES 2015.

Cutico won the overall £2,500 first prize. And they won the £500, Syngenta-sponsored prize for the best plant, microbial and environmental business plan.

More on the Grantham Centre and YES

Chris’ success follows Grantham Scholars Hannah Sewell and James Lambert. In 2015 they made it the final of the Environment YES entrepreneur competition.

Grantham Scholars win YES finance prize. In 2022, Grantham Scholars Reena Sayani and Nancy Muringai won the YES finance prize.

Edited by Claire Moran.