The Imperial Business Pitch – or the IB Pitch as it’s become well-known, is an annual competition for Business School students run in conjunction with the Imperial Enterprise Lab that allows students to develop an early-stage startup idea and have the chance to pitch to investors to win £5000.
This year the programme received the highest number of applications across the different MBA and Master’s programmes at the Business School. Out of the application pool, five teams were selected for a bootcamp to develop their idea and received tailored coaching sessions, a customer discovery workshop and a £500 grant to advance their idea.
The finalists went on the pitch at the IB Pitch final last month to a panel of investors and a live audience. Each of the teams captured the judges and audience with their excellent presentations and showcased innovative and interesting startup concepts.
The competition was tough. From the Executive MBA and Weekend MBA, Reef Mobility presented an app that allows bus companies to track their assets, gather data to improve their service and design smarter routes based on demand.
Students from MSc Strategic Marketing pitched Esme, high-quality disposable underwear for mums in their postpartum period.
From students on our Intercalated BSc course came Horus Medical, a live streaming and on-demand video platform where certified medical professionals can stream themselves talking about various conditions for the benefit of patients and relatives.
Refund Giant is an app that syncs with your credit card to automatically issue fast, hands-free VAT refunds for overseas travellers by detecting purchases abroad, was pitched by students on the MSc Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Management programme.
And finally, a line of zero-waste natural fragrance in easy to use biodegradable pods called Null was also pitched by a different group of students on MSc Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Management.
The judges were impressed by all teams, but in the end Refund Giant came out top winning the £5000 funding money, with Esme in the runner-up spot.
Refund Giant: revolutionising VAT refunds
Alex Zhou and Shawn Du of Refund Giant originally presented this idea for their Entrepreneurship project, which is a core module on MSc Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Management. They then spun it off into a business that they’re now working on full-time after realising its potential.
We speak to Alex and Shawn about Refund Giant, winning the IB Pitch and where they’re taking the startup beyond their Master’s.
1. How did you come up with the inspiration for Refund Giant?
When our families go shopping abroad, we spend hours filling out forms, followed by weeks of waiting for refunds -- only to get pennies back (30-70% fees). Only 12% of refunds are claimed in the EU; tourists have given up or don’t even attempt to claim their refund.
We want to start by claiming the £1 billion forfeited by tourists annually in the UK. We’re excited because we’re not trying to sell people anything, rather giving them MORE money back faster.
2. Why is Refund Giant a viable business concept?
Our app-based service is highly scalable, and the market is practically a blue ocean; an opportunity exists to provide fast, hands-free VAT refunds digitally. We put our time into this because our backgrounds – Mandarin-speaking with a deep understanding of both Asian/Western markets, and zero-cost growth hacking – have helped us leapfrog over existing competitors.
3. Why did you decide to apply to the IB Pitch?
We wanted to have a more in-depth understanding of our potential customers, and to really understand what they valued the most in our service. Through the IB Pitch, we’ve discovered and validated a new beachhead market, talked to over 300 potential customers, and pitched to over 500 students.
4. What learnings from the MSc Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Management did you apply in creating the startup and pitch?
We used the Design Thinking methodology to make sure that we really understood the problem first before diving into a solution. We’ve interviewed hundreds of travellers and potential customers, who in turn helped us understand the problems with the VAT refund process and what we could improve on.
5. How did the Enterprise Lab and Business School faculty help support the team through the process of developing Refund Giant?
Beyond hot-desking space in the Enterprise Lab, having access to experts in residents, idea dissection sessions, and an environment filled with other equally motivated entrepreneurs has helped us move fast and break things. We’ve also used the space to events; the free nibbles and drinks the Lab provides have been a godsend!
6. What’s next for Refund Giant?
We’ve used our initial IB Pitch grant to build v1 of our app, to talk to over 300 customers, and to market to over 500 students. We’ve obtained operating permission from HMRC, and have received an endorsement from Imperial for entrepreneurship visas. We’re also excited to announce our app will be out in Q4 this year!
The £5,000 from winning IB pitch will be the initial working capital needed to help us begin closed market testing. Shawn and I are now working on Refund Giant full-time and are currently raising pre-seed funding (£150,000 to £300,000).
Past winners of the Imperial Business Pitch
Refund Giant are in good company. There is an amazing track record of student ideas that have competed in the IB Pitch and gone on to raise funding and be placed on prestigious accelerator programmes.
The 2018 winner, Coillection, founded by MSc Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Management students, is a platform that connects households producing high volumes of waste cooking oil with oil collectors via domestic collections as a reusable energy source. They went on to win the Shell LIVEwire competition in March 2019.
Kahoots, the 2017 winners from the Full-Time MBA, is a startup designed to take the stress out of buying a home with family, partners or friends. Now pivoted to TRACK, they have raised £75k pre-seed funding and are on the Pi Labs accelerator programme.
The finalist from the same year, Donaco, founded by MSc Management students, is a news website extension designed to revolutionise the donation industry by connecting charities and donors. They also went on to raise £75k pre-seed funding.