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'The best yet' - Sync the City organisers praise start-ups for tackling social problems

PUBLISHED: 17:45 27 November 2017 | UPDATED: 17:50 27 November 2017

The winning Lone Safe team with judge Ian Watson, centre. Picture: Tim Stephenson Photography

The winning Lone Safe team with judge Ian Watson, centre. Picture: Tim Stephenson Photography

Tim Stephenson Photography

Organisers of the Sync the City start-up challenge have hailed its strongest year yet, as the event moved beyond its tech community origins to tackle "real-world" problems.

Teams worked around the clock to make their ideas a reality at Sync the City 2017. Picture: Tim Stephenson PhotographyTeams worked around the clock to make their ideas a reality at Sync the City 2017. Picture: Tim Stephenson Photography

The competition, which sees teams thrown together to devise and set up a business in just 54 hours, brought together more than 130 people at the Hostry at Norwich Cathedral over the weekend.

The event is organised by SyncNorwich and the University of East Anglia, who had appealed for a more diverse mix of participants and influences in 2017 – and SyncNorwich co-founder John Fagan said there had been a noticeable change in the ideas being brought forward.

“The final pitch presentations were the best quality we have seen so far, but the difference this year was that a lot of the problems were to do with social issues – things like mental health, personal security, homelessness and loneliness,” he said.

That included the winning entry, Lone Safe, which focuses on how to keep people who are working alone safe.

Callum Coombes, lead on the winning Lone Safe team. Picture: Tim Stephenson PhotographyCallum Coombes, lead on the winning Lone Safe team. Picture: Tim Stephenson Photography

Mr Fagan said: “There was a move away from trying to found, say, the next Snapchat, to attracting more people from outside our community and trying to solve real-world problems.

“We had people getting up talking about their own anxiety or how their relatives are living with Alzheimer’s - that was really brave.”

As well as bringing together a diverse group of people in a bid to solve problems, the event also generates benefits for the rest of the city, said Mr Fagan, by acting as a start-up “boot camp” which sharpens the skills of both the teams and their expert mentors.

And while the ideas generated at Sync the City are strong in their own right, the event as a whole acts as a pitch from the city to the students taking part.

The 2017 edition of Sync the City attracted more than 130 people to take part. Picture: Tim Stephenson PhotographyThe 2017 edition of Sync the City attracted more than 130 people to take part. Picture: Tim Stephenson Photography

“About half of the people taking part are students, and about half are professionals,” said Mr Fagan.

“It improves everybody: they all go back to their jobs or uni and they have a better chance to get a job. It upgrades everyone’s hard skills and their soft skills.

He added: “One of the big outcomes I want to see is that we keep the students here, so that when they graduate they stay here and know what Norwich has to offer them. We had 50 or 60 students here for Sync the City and I hope they share their experiences with their fellow student and realise they don’t have to leave to find jobs.”

The Sync the City 2017 judges. From left, Chris Sargisson, chief executive of Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, 
Juliana Meyer, founder of Supapass, Ian Watson, chief executive of Start-rite Shoes' parent company James Southall Ltd, Kirsty Jarvis, founder of Luminous PR, and Wayne Taylor, chief technology officer of Thyngs. Picture: Tim Stephenson PhotographyThe Sync the City 2017 judges. From left, Chris Sargisson, chief executive of Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, Juliana Meyer, founder of Supapass, Ian Watson, chief executive of Start-rite Shoes' parent company James Southall Ltd, Kirsty Jarvis, founder of Luminous PR, and Wayne Taylor, chief technology officer of Thyngs. Picture: Tim Stephenson Photography

The winner: Lone Safe

The idea which scooped the £3,000 top prize was software which helps people working alone to stay safe.

In the team’s final pitch video, lead Callum Coombes explains that the app could be used by workers in sectors ranging from care to agriculture – any area in which people have to perform potentially risky tasks alone.

Workers assign themselves a guardian, which could be a manager at the office or a family member, and sets a maximum time for the activity.

Using the example of a roofer working alone, Mr Coombes said: “If that timer was to time out, their guardian would then receive an alert to say they have potentially fallen off the roof and been knocked unconscious, and require help.

“There are 30,000 serious injuries in UK farming every year and that’s just UK farming. Using Lone Safe we can prevent those accidents becoming fatalities across millions of different professions.”

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