Published on 26/03/2024
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Elena, Pam, Mandeep, Felix
Elena Boos, Pam Sheemar, Mandeep Soor and Felix Hughes
  • Venturefest West Midlands 2024 saw the ninth Minerva Birmingham Pitch Up competition
  • The Dragon’s Den-style contest is a partnership between Aston University, University of Warwick and University of Birmingham
  • The winner of the Best Pitch Award, Mandeep Soor of Bendi AI, won a £2,000 cash prize, free membership and support from Minerva Business Angels.

The co-founder of a software company that provides environmental, social and governance (ESG) intelligence for global supply chains has been voted the winner of the ninth Minerva Pitch Up competition run by Aston University, University of Warwick and University of Birmingham.

Mandeep Soor, CEO of Bendi AI, beat off competition to win the Best Pitch Award at Venturefest West Midlands held at Eastside Rooms in Birmingham on Thursday 21 March.  

Bendi AI aims to reduce the risk of human rights, environmental and governance risks in supply chains through 24/7 risk monitoring. Its software maps millions of data points from news, legal cases and social media in multiple languages globally.

Venturefest offers West Midlands entrepreneurs and innovators a unique opportunity to develop and grow their businesses by meeting with potential investors and other cutting-edge companies.

The event saw the culmination of the Dragon’s Den-style contest run by Aston University, University of Warwick and University of Birmingham in which around 60 businesses have battled it out over the last six months, before the eight finalists had the opportunity of pitching to a panel of judges on the day. 

Mandeep Soor (Bendi), Elena Boos (Visionary Farms) and Felix Hughes (Bueno Europe Ltd) competed in the final in a head-to-head contest in front of the Venturefest audience, who then voted for the winner who would take home a £2000 prize, with the runner-up securing £1000. 

The audience of over 500 entrepreneurs, innovators and investors voted Mandeep Soor the winner, and Felix Hughes runner-up.

Contestants that didn't compete in the finals had the opportunity to showcase their businesses in the exhibition space, including One Learning, Ingrained Oil and Clearscope.

The event also included a panel session titled Where are they now? Take inspiration from those who have done it before chaired by Paula Whitehouse, deputy dean enterprise and engagement in the College of Business and Social Sciences at Aston University and director of Aston Centre for Growth, with panel guests Kameese Davis (founder of Nylah’s Naturals and 2023 Pitch Up Winner), Mark Platt (co-founder of Figura Analytics and 2021 Pitch Up winner), Surlender Pendress (co-founder of Love Writing Co. and 2021 Pitch Up finalist) and Dhruvesh Ranpura (co-founder of tuck. and 2023 Pitch Up contestant).

Mandeep Soor said:

“It's been an honour to pitch Bendi and what we're building alongside all of the incredible founders at Venturefest - to then win, is just unbelievable. I've already been approached by numerous people with offers of support, connections and more.

“By winning this prize and the support of Minerva Angels I hope to close our funding round to scale our tech, hire essential team members and build out the vision to take Bendi's supply chain risk data beyond corporates to financial services and insurance.”

Felix Hughes said:

“Bueno is thrilled to be the runner up in Minerva Birmingham Pitch Up finals at Venturefest West Midlands 2024. With 800,000 Brits owning property in Spain, becoming a runner up in the Venturefest final will be transformative, it establishes Bueno as an innovative British banking alternative in Spain for both holiday owners and expats. 

“Bueno’s journey to becoming a Venturefest finalist started with attending the NatWest Scale-Up Accelerator in the West Midlands. From the support received from NatWest and the Pitch Up team will help Bueno to grow  to profitability in 2024.

“Being runners up in this competition is an amazing achievement for the team and we would like to thank Minerva Business Angels, Aston Centre for Growth, University of Birmingham Enterpriseand NatWest for enabling this completion. 

Paula Whitehouse said:

“Supporting small businesses to grow is what Aston Centre for Growth is all about and we are delighted to work in partnership with Minerva Business Angels and University of Birmingham Enterprise to help entrepreneurs access finance for growth.  

“Congratulations to all of our finalists this year who created excitement around their innovative businesses.

“I wish them all a successful future.”  

Alex Toft, head of Minerva Business Angels, said:

“Minerva Birmingham PitchUp had a great vibe once again this year, and it was also good to see the innovation ongoing in the West Midlands. 

“It was great to see Bendi win the PitchUp final, and it was a strong group of strong contenders in the final. All the finalists were winners, and it was a tough group of applications to judge this year, given the quality of applications received.”

Andrew Cruxton, head of Enterprise development and collaboration at University of Birmingham Enterprise, said:

“The Minerva Birmingham Pitch Up competition continues to be an incredibly successful event. All the businesses that made it through to the final are at a very high standard, so the competition was tough. 

“It proves the quality of talent we have in the Midlands, and we are proud to have an event like Pitch Up which can showcase these opportunities.”

Pam Sheemar, regional enterprise director at NatWest, said:

“Attending Venturefest and seeing Minerva Birmingham Pitch Up finals was exciting for us and our teams. It was a unique opportunity for entrepreneurs to raise their profile in the West Midlands and beyond. We know our region is home to a diverse range of businesses and this showcase event brought together ambitious business leaders and potential investors. It was a pleasure to work with the Minerva Birmingham Pitch Up team.  There was a range of submissions from entrepreneurs and we were delighted to see the support they had on their business journey and pitches.

“We know that small businesses are the backbone of the UK economy, making a positive impact across the communities and towns where they are rooted. As the biggest lender to SMEs in the country, we are committed to removing barriers to enterprise and to providing more opportunities for companies to grow and thrive. Our free business support programmes, including our Accelerator scheme, empowers ambitious business leaders to scale their business to the next level, supporting entrepreneurs to go much further and faster all at no cost.”

Notes to Editors

About Aston University

For over a century, Aston University’s enduring purpose has been to make our world a better place through education, research and innovation, by enabling our students to succeed in work and life, and by supporting our communities to thrive economically, socially and culturally.

Aston University’s history has been intertwined with the history of Birmingham, a remarkable city that once was the heartland of the Industrial Revolution and the manufacturing powerhouse of the world.

Born out of the First Industrial Revolution, Aston University has a proud and distinct heritage dating back to our formation as the School of Metallurgy in 1875, the first UK College of Technology in 1951, gaining university status by Royal Charter in 1966, and becoming The Guardian University of the Year in 2020.

Building on our outstanding past, we are now defining our place and role in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (and beyond) within a rapidly changing world.

For media inquiries in relation to this release, contact Sam Cook, Press and Communications Manager, on (+44) 7446 910063 or email:

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