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Aston graduates shortlisted for £20,000 prize for young Midlands entrepreneurs

Baldwins KickStart Awards
From the left, Luke Cuthbert (Art of Football), John Baldwin (Baldwins Accountants), Sam Wilson (Virtalent), Ellie Bekalo (Virtalent), Shaun Knight (Baldwins Accountants), Stan Karpenko (Give Vision)

3 November 2014

A ‘virtual assistant’ website that links resourceful students with busy entrepreneurs has earned its Aston graduate founders a place at the finals of a prestigious start-up awards. 

Ellie Bekalo and Sam Wilson’s business, Virtalent, has been shortlisted to compete against two other companies at the finals of Baldwin Accountants’ KickStart Entrepreneurs Awards. The winners will receive a £10,000 grant along with £10,000 worth of mentoring and accountancy advice from Baldwins. 

The finalists will deliver a presentation pitching their business to a panel of judges in front of a 300-strong audience at the event, which will be held at Villa Park on 20 November. Both runners-up will be rewarded with £5,000 of mentoring and advice. 

Virtalent, launched in July, matches highly skilled UK university students with small business owners, to carry out tasks ranging from graphic design to social media management, for a flexible number of hours per month. 

Ellie, who graduated alongside Sam from the International Business and Modern Languages programme at Aston, said: “We are very excited to have been shortlisted for the final of such a great award. It would mean everything for us to win. Both the grant the grant and support and advice being offered would be invaluable as we look to raise interest and the first round of investment in Virtalent. 

“We are very proud of our business and the ways in which it helps people. If you are an entrepreneur just starting a business, we can reduce the worry, cost and time involved in hiring permanent members of staff. If there is an area of their business an entrepreneur is struggling to develop, we can assign a student with specialist skills to help, leaving the business owner free to concentrate on the more value-adding aspects of their company.” 

David Baldwin, a partner at Baldwin Accountants, said: “The finalists will present an overview of their business and we want them to highlight the quality of their product or service, their future plans and the strength of their personalities. We will give first prize to the business which has spotted the best gap in the market and has the most long-term potential.” 

Ellie and Sam received support and guidance from the Aston-led Birmingham Skills for Enterprise and Employability Network (BSEEN) while setting-up Virtalent. The BSEEN team assist students and graduates  who are founding businesses  by offering mentoring, workshops, a business grant and workspace. The programme is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund.

Baldwins Accountants is one of the Midland’s largest independent, family owned accountancy firms, with eight offices across the region. Tickets to attend the KickStart Final gala dinner at Villa Park are available from: www.baldwinskickstart.com 

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For further media information, please contact Jonathan Garbett, Aston University Communications on 0121 204 4552 or j.garbett@aston.ac.uk.