A young gingerbread maker from Crawley has snapped up a ‘once in a lifetime’ prize by winning a business competition for 16-25-year-olds.
Sam French, 21, from North Road, Three Bridges, triumphed in the final of Young Start-up Talent at Lingfield Park Hotel last Thursday February 28, beating off five other ideas to secure a prize of almost £60,000 worth of business tools.
His idea for themed soft gingerbread called Sam’s Kitchen wowed judges to win the competition, which is aimed at 16-25-year-olds in the Gatwick Diamond with the drive to turn their business dream into a reality.
After receiving the trophy, Sam said: “I’m excited for the future, all the people I’m going to meet, all the things I’m going to achieve.
“It’s been an absolutely fantastic process. I’ve been able to meet some amazing people and that is all I can ask for.”
He added: “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Starting off selling McDonalds toys in his dad’s automobilia stall when he was younger, he said he had always been fascinated by business. He is already selling his gingerbread at Tulleys Farm and thanked the staff there for giving him the first chance to showcase his product.
His parents Jill and Terry said they were extremely proud of what their son had achieved, and Sam had been rewarded for the amount of effort he put into the competition, working hard on his business while also working at a nearby supermarket.
A former pupil at Three Bridges’ Hazelwick School, his mum said that he was voted entrepreneur of the year when he left.
Asked why they chose Sam, Matthew Tyson, one of the judges and a director at chartered accountants Richard Place Dobson, said: “It tasted really good, because at the end of the day that’s what people will buy.
“He’s got a lovely enthusiasm about him.
“He was very infectious and he’s a very likeable character.
“We could see how it can work, you really can. The fact that he has got a brand already and the beginnings of a business, and this competition will help him get the bits that will take it into a fully-fledged business.”
A video of the six ideas pitching to judges in a Dragons’ Den environment, presented by Crawley MP Henry Smith, was shown at the final before the winner was announced.
Ideas that fell short included Alessandro Tricarico’s window-cleaning firm, Summer Shayne’s plans for a formal hire website, and Dylan Gillah’s music t-shirt business.
The other two runners-up were both pairs; Sam Rose and Josh Stacey, both pupils at the Weald School in Billingshurst, pitched a discount card aimed at 11-16-year-olds; while Olivia Harrison and Zak Lambri, from Reigate College, wanted to market unwanted charity to a younger audience.
All the finalists were given the choice of airline tickets to either Nice, Barcelona or Amsterdam thanks to YST sponsor British Airways.
Dorothy Larios, of Crawley-based Nvision Coaching, thought that all the finalists had risen well to the challenge of pitching their ideas to a challenging audience.
She said: “They are an amazingly developed bunch of school leavers and young adults.”
Gary Shipton, editor in chief of this newspaper and one of the judges, said the standard of entries had been even higher this year.
He added: “This competition not only actively encourages young entrepreneurs but it demonstrates just how much talent exists in this region.
“Anyone fearful for the future of our economy should take heart, hope and inspiration from this annual contest of which we are proud to be supporters.”
Young Start-up Talent is the brainchild of Lorraine Nugent and Matt Turner, managing directors of Media Word Waves and Creative Pod, and was celebrating its third year.