Maurice McErlean picking up his £2,000 prize for TopicSkip, the winning entry in the inaugural Ulster University Students’ Union Shark Tank entrepreneurial competition from UUSU Enterprise & Entrepreneurship Manager Chris Shannon

The winner of the inaugural Ulster University Students’ Union Shark Tank competition was announced at the glittering UUSU Student Excellence Awards held at the Glenavon House Hotel in Cookstown.

Maurice McErlean won the first prize of £2,000 start-up capital for TopicSkip, a web-based video content solution. He’s a final year student studying Interactive Multimedia Design at the Ulster University Jordanstown campus.

The competition was organised by the UUSU Enterprise Centre which helps Ulster University entrepreneurial students across all four campuses, as well as recent graduates, to craft great business ideas and set up new business and social enterprises.

The UUSU Shark Tank competition received a wide range of applications ranging across a vegan food van, an app to identify the most suitable personal trainer in an area, a solar charger, and drone photography.

Students from across all Ulster University campuses pitched to the panel of sharks to win the £2,000 prize on offer.

Twelve entries were shortlisted and students pitched their ideas to the panel of sharks on 9 March. The Shark Tank panel comprised Jennifer McWilliams, Chief Executive at Antrim Enterprise Agency; JP Irvine, Director at Keystone Law; Nancy Brown, Manager of Belfast Enterprise Academy and lecturer at Ulster University Business School; Kyle Gawley, CEO at Get Invited, a previous Ulster University start-up; and Jonathan Wallace, Professor of Innovation at Ulster University.

The judges were extremely impressed at the level of entrepreneurial talent and ambition demonstrated by the contestants. Three finalists were selected and the winner was announced in front of more than a hundred students who had gathered in Cookstown at a venue equidistant from the four Ulster University campuses.

Maurice McErlean’s TopicSkip is an easy to use web-based service that allows users to add timestamps to videos that have been uploaded or are already hosted on YouTube. The timestamps allow viewers to skip to different topics within the video rather than having to watch the full video to find the part they wanted. The platform provides analytics to understand which timestamps are most popular.

The technology is suitable for vloggers, podcasters, educators, the legal profession and anyone who needs to make video content that they produce or use more easily navigable.

Winning student entrepreneur Maurice McErlean said:

“I’m thrilled to have won the inaugural UUSU Shark Tank award. The competition was fierce and the sharks asked probing questions about TopicSkip and my plans to develop the service. The £2,000 of capital will really help me to further innovate its features and push it out into the marketplace.”

Chris Shannon, UUSU Enterprise & Entrepreneurship Manager oversaw the competition.

“It’s been great to discover the creativity of Ulster University students right across the breadth of faculties and campuses. Both myself and the sharks were really impressed by the level of innovative thinking and business acumen demonstrated. For some students, Shark Tank encouraged them to take the first steps in their entrepreneurial journey, while we discovered others who had already set up businesses and were running them in parallel with their studies.

“All students who engaged in the competition in any way now have the opportunity to avail of one to one mentoring from the Ulster Business Institute in partnership with UUSU Enterprise Centre. Shark Tank will be back next year and we look forward to nurturing the amazing ideas and innovations of talented students willing to dip their toes in the entrepreneurial tank.”

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