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Enterprising Students win £10K prize

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A NEW venture designed to help Colombian farmers improve crop productivity is the winner of the latest edition of Aberystwyth University’s ‘Dragon’s Den’ style student entrepreneurship competition InvEnterPrize.

Developed by an interdisciplinary team led by PhD student Liliana Castillo from Colombia, Amigrow uses satellite technology and machine learning to assist farmers with decision making.

Along with the 2019 InvEnterPrize title, Amigrow receives £10,000 to invest in the development of the concept to bring it closer to market.

Speaking of the team’s success, Liliana said: “Winning InvEnterPrize is very important to us, there are no words to describe the feeling.”

“This idea started with my experience of agriculture in Colombia. With the support of InvEnterPrize, my team and I look forward to start testing the capabilities of Amigrow. We are going to develop the first prototype and create iterations of it so that we can really know what works and what doesn’t, and produce something meaningful for the farmers so they can take the right decisions at the right time and produce better profit margins.”

Liliana added: “Colombia is a very diverse country, we have very different environments for very different kinds of crops. Initially, we are going to start with rice producers as it is very important for feeding people in Colombia and in the world.”

Amigrow was one of 15 entries for InvEnterPrize 2019, and six finalists to present their ideas to the judges on Friday 29 March 2019.

Chair of the judges, Donald Davies, Emeritus Professor in Toxicology at Imperial College London, said: “We are delighted to award InvEnterPrize 2019 to Amigrow and our warmest congratulations to Liliana and her team on their venture.”

“InvEnterPrize is an excellent competition which brings out the best in the students, and this year has proved to be the most difficult to judge with all six finalists delivering excellent presentations. It clearly inspires students here at Aberystwyth University to venture and develop ideas that go beyond what they might normally do. It is so important to sow the seed of an idea that students can develop into a business, and this competition, along with the support the teams receive throughout the year from the University’s Careers service, makes this all possible.”

InvEnterPrize organiser and Aberystwyth University entrepreneurship champion, Tony Orme, said: “The quality of the entries this year has been exceptional and the final proved to be a very close run indeed. We are immensely grateful to our panel of judges for their valuable time and expertise in this year’s search for a winner, and to the University’s alumni who make this competition possible via the Aber Fund. We now look forward to working with Liliana and colleagues on Amigrow, as the concept is developed.”

Amigrow also enjoyed further success at InvEnterPrize 2019 as it won a year’s office space at AberInnovation – the Aberystwyth Innovation and Enterprise Campus, a £40.5m development at the Aberystwyth University Gogerddan Campus.

Presented by Dr Rhian Hayward, Chief Executive Officer of AberInnovation, the award was given for the best presentation in the bioscience, agri-tech, and food and drinks sectors.

Now in its 6th year, InvEnterPrize was established to further encourage a culture of entrepreneurship among the University’s students.

The £10,000 prize provided by the University’s alumni via the Aber Fund enables the winner to invest in equipment, facilities or professional services to turn the invention or business start-up idea into reality.

Entrants also had the opportunity to seek expert advice and attend a series of workshops and presentations led by successful entrepreneurs as they developed their final bids, gaining valuable advice on the way.

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Lidl to build brand-new store in Llanelli

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LIDL has confirmed it intends to build a brand-new store in Llanelli as part of its ongoing £1.3bn investment across Great Britain in 2021 and 2022. The announcement comes as Lidl is working with developer Arbenigol Limited who has exchanged contracts with Carmarthenshire County Council, securing the site on Trostre Retail Park.

As well as delivering Lidl’s high quality and affordable produce to even more of the community, the plans include a multi-million-pound investment and the creation of around 40 new jobs for the local economy. The new store would consist of a 1,410m² sales an in-store bakery, customer toilets, baby changing and 130 car parking spaces. 

Lidl GB’s Regional Head of Property, Paul Hebblethwaite, commented: “We are delighted to confirm plans to open our second store for Llanelli and serve even more of the local community our fresh, quality, great value products. We are firmly committed to continuing to develop the local area through investment and job creation. The team are very much looking forward to confirming a date for our public consultation when we will outline our plans and get input from those who will directly benefit from the new store.”

Its ongoing success shows no signs of slowing, with the latest Kantar Worldpanel results highlighting Lidl’s increase in sales year on year and market share of 5.7%.

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Thousands of steel jobs at risk as lender collapses

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GREENSILL CAPITAL has this filed for administration, potentially putting at risk thousands of jobs in the UK steel industry, including jobs in Wales.

On Monday (Mar 8), lawyers for the bank, which is one of the main sources of funding for steel magnate Sanjeev Gupta’s business empire, appeared before a UK court today, the FT reported.

Unions are seeking urgent talks with steel magnate Sanjeev Gupta over the future of his operations in the UK with its main financial backer having now filed for administration in the UK.

Mr Gupta, who lives in Monmouthshire, has over the last few years acquired a string of steel and aluminium interests globally with the backing of supply chain lender Greensill, which is understood to have provided him £3bn.

According to court documents, Greensill has “fallen into severe financial distress” and can no longer pay off its debts.

As a result, US investor Apollo Global Management could now sweep in and buy up some of the firm’s businesses.

Accountants Grant Thornton said that it had been appointed as Greensill’s administrator.

In a statement, it added that in was in “continued discussion with an interested party in relation to the purchase of certain Greensill Capital assets.”
“As these discussions remain ongoing, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”, it added.

The collapse marks a rapid downfall for the firm, which counted former PM David Cameron among its advisers.

The supply chain finance specialist was thrown into disarray last week when its insurance provider refused to renew a $4.6bn contract.

Shortly thereafter, lender Credit Suisse froze $10bn of funds linked to the firm, leaving it perilously short of cash.

With Gupta’s GFG Alliance believed to be heavily exposed to the firm, the collapse could have a devastating affect on the UK steel industry.

Up to 5,000 jobs at GFG and subsidiary Liberty Steel could be at risk, with union officials set for crisis talks with the firm tomorrow.

“Sanjeev Gupta needs to tell us exactly what the administration means for Liberty’s UK businesses and how he plans to protect jobs”, union Community said in a statement.

“The future of Liberty’s strategic steel assets must be secured and we are ready to work with all stakeholders to find a solution.”

It was also reported that business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng met with Liberty Steel’s chief executive John Ferriman yesterday.

Nicknamed the “saviour of steel”, Gupta had previously snapped up a number of steel assets in the UK despite uncertainty over the future of the industry.

Liberty Steel currently owns nine steelworks sites in the UK, which employ around 3,000 people. 2,000 more staff work for engineering firms connected to the industry.

Reacting to the announcement of possible steel job losses at Liberty Steel, Newport and other sites, the Shadow Minister for Economy, Business and Infrastructure, Russell George MS, said: “This announcement, of course, will undoubtedly cause anxiety for workers and their families.
“So, first and foremost, the most important aim now is for dialogue to ensue, in a bid for a solution to be found.
“Steelworkers in Wales have a brilliant reputation for creating high-quality products and I truly hope a solution can be reached.”

But a spokesperson for the company said that the firm was currently running as normal.
“Our operations are running as normal and our core businesses continue to benefit from strong market conditions generating robust sales and cash flows”, they said.
“Our operational efficiency programme has improved profitability and we are making progress in our discussions with financial institutions that can help diversify our funding. We are keeping our employees up to date and will provide further updates as we deliver our plans.”

Mike Hill, Labour MP fo Hartlepool, where one of Liberty’s steelworks is, said: “Liberty Steel is a major employer in Hartlepool, manufacturing bespoke Pipes for use by the offshore oil and gas industry.
“The company has also been identified as a key player in the Government’s plan for a Freeport in Teesside and Hartlepool. The last thing our local economy needs in these difficult times is for the business to go under and urgent intervention from Ministers will be needed if there are any signs of that happening.”

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Burry Port residents urged to pool ultrafast broadband vouchers

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OPENREACH is asking people living in Burry Port to get behind a push for faster broadband.

Ultrafast, ultra-reliable full fibre broadband is within touching distance for people living in Burry Port – thanks to Openreach’s Community Fibre Partnership scheme.

The company – the UK’s largest broadband network used by customers of BT, Plusnet, Sky, TalkTalk, Vodafone and Zen – is urging people living or working in Burry Port to consider pooling Gigabit broadband vouchers available from the UK and Welsh Governments to help build a new, gigabit-capable network, where fibre is run directly from the exchange all the way to each property.

Many residents have already pledged their support, but those who haven’t and don’t currently have access to a 100Mbps broadband service can check if they qualify and pledge their voucher on the Connect My Community website.

If enough people come forward to pledge, and validate their vouchers – before the scheme ends – Openreach can work with the community to build a customised, co-funded network and bring full fibre broadband to areas not included in any existing private or publicly subsidised upgrade schemes.

By working with Openreach in this way, more than 150,000 homes and businesses across the UK can already benefit from ultrafast, ultra-reliable broadband.

Connie Dixon, Openreach’s partnership director for Wales, said: “This is a really exciting opportunity for the community of Burry Port to bring full fibre infrastructure to the town but the clock is ticking.”

“Deadline for vouchers to be pledged and issued is the end of March so we need as many people as possible in Burry Port to get involved so that we get enough pledges ‘over the line’. Everyone who pledges a voucher will be doing their bit to help make Burry Port one of the best-connected places in Wales. Pledging couldn’t be simpler, but we need residents to act quickly.”

Connie added: “Thousands of homes and businesses across Wales can already upgrade to the Openreach full fibre network and local people can use our online postcode checker to see what’s now available.

“We’re investing £12 billion to build full fibre broadband to 20 million homes – and more than three million of those will be in the toughest third of the UK – but we can’t upgrade the whole country alone. This latest support from government, alongside help to remove red tape and barriers that slow down the build, is vital.”

To claim vouchers which contribute towards the cost of building the new network, residents are asked to commit to ordering a full fibre service from a provider of their choice for at least 12 months once the new network is available.

Eligible residents can qualify for up to a maximum of £3,000 while small to medium sized businesses can claim up to £7,000 under the UK Government’s Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme which has been topped up by Welsh Government funding.

Carmarthenshire County Council leader, Cllr Emlyn Dole said: “We welcome this scheme and would strongly recommend residents and businesses in Burry Port seeking ultra-fast, ultra-reliable internet speeds to register their interest now. Fast, reliable connectivity is vital to support business growth, help communities to thrive, improve health and well-being, and make it easier for people to get online and access public services. This has been particularly highlighted during the current Covid-19 pandemic.”

Full fibre technology provides more reliable, resilient and future-proof connectivity; meaning fewer faults; more predictable, consistent speeds and enough capacity to easily meet growing data demands. It’s also future-proof, which means it will serve generations to come and won’t need to be upgraded for decades.

Fibre optics – strands of glass around one-tenth the thickness of a human hair – transmit data using light signals. Fibre is smaller, lighter and more durable than copper cabling and less vulnerable to damage. This short video explains what full fibre technology is and there’s more info here.

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