Schoolchildren wow £100m business boss in Dragon’s Den-style tech competition

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ACADEMY pupils wowed the entrepreneur behind a £100m communications company when he returned to his former school.

Onecom CEO Darren Ridge says he was ‘bowled over’ when he journeyed back to Havant Academy to crown the winners of a contest he launched in November.

Back row, Onecom CEO Darren Ridge, Gideon Triskinski, Alfie Hayward, Davis Hvostous and Onecom chief operating officer Aaron Brown. Middle row, Onecom product manager Emma Ward, Lauren Keet, Tegan Rowsell. Front row: Kaitlyn Wilson, April Bushnell and Rahees Summers

Back row, Onecom CEO Darren Ridge, Gideon Triskinski, Alfie Hayward, Davis Hvostous and Onecom chief operating officer Aaron Brown. Middle row, Onecom product manager Emma Ward, Lauren Keet, Tegan Rowsell. Front row: Kaitlyn Wilson, April Bushnell and Rahees Summers

Dubbed ‘Predict the Future of Technology’, the competition called on secondary school children to come up with an application or service that had the potential to change lives.

In a Dragons’ Den-style pitch scenario, Mr Ridge and his business partners declared their winners, Year 10 pupil April Bushnell and her peer Kaitlyn Wilson, who respectively designed a smart bin which rewards users with recycling points, and a family-aimed app – which tracks domestic food stocks and the completion of chores.

Mr Ridge – who attended the school when it was known as Wakefords 40 years ago – said: ‘When we launched this competition, we had no idea how successful it would be – but we have been bowled over by the enthusiasm and ideas we have seen from the pupils.

‘I have no doubt there are future app developers and entrepreneurs here, as well as future Onecom employees.’

For their innovative efforts, April and Kaitlyn were each awarded with a Samsung Galaxy S8 smartphone and a virtual reality headset.

But, for taking part, every pupil involved took home a mini drone and a camera kit.

Victoria Adams, head of school at Havant Academy, said the contest was a real hit with the schoolchildren.

She said: ‘The competition has created a huge buzz and showed the young people how somebody from a background similar to theirs can go on to achieve great success through hard work and innovation.

‘We are very grateful to Darren for coming back to his former school and inspiring the students here.’

Based in Whiteley, Onecom is the UK’s largest independent business telecommunications provider – serving more than 325,000 mobile connections from 12 offices.

It was founded in 2002.