Jump to accessibility statement Skip to content

Students test business acumen in dragon’s den-style challenge

Home / More / News / Students test business acumen in dragon’s den-style challenge

Published on 20 December 2017

MBA teams who took part in the challenge
MBA teams who took part in the challenge

Enterprising students from our Sunderland and London campuses pitted their business wits against each other for the annual Master of Business Administration (MBA) challenge.

The University challenge offers MBA students the opportunity to pitch a new business idea, product or service to a panel of experts – in a Dragon’s Den-style competition. The experts are made up of academic staff, employers and representatives from the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), who this year sponsored the event.

The teams, a group of eight students from our Sir Tom Cowie Campus and 13 from the University of Sunderland in London, had to convince potential investors (the judges) with arguments and facts in a 15-minute presentation about the viability of their prospective business in a bid for funding.

The exercise is all about integrating their MBA learning in a competitive environment, supporting their employability and enhancing their CV.

The London team, named ‘Flawless’, were crowned the winners after pitching their product, a makeup accessory for women commuters, impressed the judging panel - made up of Gavin Richardson, Founder and MD of Boldon-based Opus Building Services), Helen Watts (CMI Customer Relationship manager), and MBA programme leaders Azmat Firdous (London) and Karen Wharton (Sunderland).

The judges said the research undertaken on all aspects was impressive, from sourcing the cost of manufacturing the product, refining product design, identifying potential markets and a supporting an integrated marketing strategy.

MBA Programme Leader Karen Wharton said: “The sheer creativity demonstrated around the development of innovative products and service really impressed the judges this year. Today’s business climate encourages the entrepreneur and our students demonstrate the ability to identify market opportunities and engage with technology.

“Products featuring in this year’s challenge included sectors such as beauty, fashion, hygiene products, toiletries, recycling and apps to assist consumer retailing.

“It is also great to witness the integration of the students’ previous degree disciplines with their newly formed MBA business knowledge.”

Helen Watts added: “The Chartered Management Institute is delighted that the University of Sunderland have become strategic partners.  The dual accreditation of the Sunderland MBA will ensure that the students have the best employability opportunities once they graduate.  The MBA challenge is one part of the programme that allows the students to gain real access to employers, experience team working, access to the CMI resources and presentation skills very early in their programme.  It was a great experience for them and the panel and I look forward to working with them on their journey through the MBA."

All participants received a University of Sunderland certificate of participation, signed by the Principle Lecturer Employability, Ian Carr.

The teams included:

Salem Elhej, Brian Joshua, Yazan Barhoum, Jongbeom Won, Katarzyna Krysinska, Sunpasiri Sodtisuporn, Nanda Kumar Suresh and  Abed Alrahman Al-Zghoul.

Corina Musetescu, Rafael Rviz, Sumit Suresh Mhatre, Daniel Haase, Laz Krishna Kabeer, Emmanuel Agholor, Cheryl Henry, Soji Francis, Tania Eyang, Jag Parsooramen, Hoang Ngoc Mai, Nguyen Thi Phuong Trinh and Osaretim Igbimoba.

Feedback about the challenge, now in its fourth year, from students has been positive.

Comments include:

 “I love the activity as it creates a chance for students from London campus and Sunderland campus to meet each other, increasing my networking friendships and enabling exchange of attitudes and ideas with the postgraduate students of Sunderland. I also appreciated the advice and comments from the judges, focusing on the enhancement of ideas. This advice will be useful in the future”

“This event has assisted my learning, I also learned about myself and what I am capable of”

“The MBA challenge was a great experience and a great memory for me of being a postgraduate MBA student at Sunderland”


Guest Speaker and panel judge: Gavin Richardson (founder and MD, Opus Building Services)

Gavin started his career as an electrical apprentice for a company called ABB Building Services. At an early stage, his potential for quick advancement was apparent, which culminated in him winning a National Apprentice Award (ECA) in 1997.

His career path advanced to estimating through to project management. He departed ABB once career progression and opportunity became sparse.

Gavin joined Syncro (part of the CO-OP group) as a project manager, where his career acceleration picked up again, culminating in him becoming the Regional Mechanical and

Electrical Manager at the age of 29, with a budget responsibility of £8M and over 80 operatives. After the business focus and strategy changed, Gavin decided to create his own business.

In 2006 Gavin created a company called OPUS Electrical. This business quickly grew due to Gavin’s local reputation and previous working relationships with other colleagues, many of whom have grown with the business.

In 2008 Gavin further expanded the company to incorporate other trades and renamed it OPUS Building Services. Year ending 2016 OPUS Building Services annual turnover is £11M, working locally and nationally and created full time employment for over 80 permanent staff and continues to grow and develop.

In 2008 during the economic crisis Gavin decided to embark on an Executive MBA in order to further progress his business skills and fine tune OPUS. As part of his MBA studies Gavin produced a business plan for a new and diverse business which became OPUS Green, a Renewable Energy Consultancy and Contractor. Both businesses run independently at the same time facilitating consortium bids.

Other Businesses that have been recently created are OPUS Medigas and OPUS Property Solutions, these businesses have been created to corner market sectors within health care and education providing single offering to clients to compliment OPUS Building Services’ strong reputation and business offering.  

In endeavouring to enrich his own business acumen, Gavin has also undertaken the following roles, which he has served the full term requirements:

Non-executive Director roles at partnership insurance companies based in London (ECIC and ECIS).

Chartered Management Institute CMI - Elected Board Trustee