Ed and Paul Bird accepting their award from Santander UK CEO Nathan Bostock

Support from the Formation Zone at the University of Plymouth has helped a new business achieve success in a national award. Bird Sunglasses, which is run by four brothers, including two Plymouth graduates, beat over 2,000 enterprises to take 2nd place in the National Santander Universities Entrepreneurship Awards.

One of the UK’s largest student and graduate business competitions, the Santander Universities Entrepreneurship Awards rewards the best university students and recent graduates for pursuing their business ideas. 

Bird Sunglasses is a pioneering eyewear company that sells handcrafted sunglasses using sustainable materials. For every pair sold they distribute a solar light to remote communities in Africa through their Share Your Sun partnership with charity SolarAid. The business was launched by Ed, Will, Lawrence and Paul Bird in March 2017 after the brothers secured £10,000 of investment through a Crowdfunder campaign. 

Co-founder Paul Bird graduated from the University in 2012 with a degree in Digital Art and Technology. He said: 

“The Formation Zone team was brilliant at helping us to build our confidence in pitching the business for the Santander Universities Entrepreneurship Awards. They have been with us all the way through and have helped us with issues around intellectual property and trademarking, which is crucial for a business like ours to get right. We have been offered space in the Formation Zone as we take the business forward to the next stage, which will involve pitching to major retailers and growing our brand internationally.”

Since the awards were launched, Santander Universities has provided more than £340,000 in support for budding student entrepreneurs, and given universities the chance to showcase entrepreneurial talent from across the UK. 

The winning entries were selected from a shortlist of 12 entrepreneurial projects, who pitched their business ideas to a panel of judges consisting of successful entrepreneurs, business leaders and senior members of Santander UK and academia, as well as a live audience. These 12 businesses were selected from over 2,000 entries who, over the course of the year, took part in a series of regional heats ahead of reaching the final.

Formation Zone is an award-winning business incubator service at the University. It gives students and graduates the opportunity to pursue a business idea and offers advice and support in a focused environment for the start-up stage and first year or two of trading. 

Eleanor Browne, Formation Zone Programme Manager, said: 

“It was an exciting journey supporting Bird Sunglasses through this national competition process to the high-profile final pitch. Bird Sunglasses is a fantastic example of graduate entrepreneurship. The company is an inspiration to the other innovative businesses at our Formation Zone business incubator at the University of Plymouth.”
The University has a long-standing relationship with Santander Universities, which funds a number of enterprise initiatives, scholarships and research posts.

Matt Hutnell, Director of Santander Universities UK, commented: 

“At Santander we have made a long term commitment to support higher education and we are proud to take an active role in fostering entrepreneurship among university students. Young people are the business leaders of the future and universities play an important role in nurturing their talent. We cannot underestimate the importance of the nation’s budding entrepreneurs in our communities and at Santander we want to ensure we reward and encourage students to invest, innovate, create and be entrepreneurial.”