Young Innovators Success Stories: Alaya Holloway, FirstGens, South West
Improving inclusivity by backing first-generation students
Alaya Holloway won the Young Innovators Award 2020/21, from Innovate UK and The Prince’s Trust, armed with a wealth of innovative ideas but lacking a clear business model.
Fast-track 12 months and she has built a team, developed a pilot offering, and secured crucial follow-on funding from Innovate UK to progress her now defined business idea.
Alaya was 22 when she won her place on the Young Innovators programme and, as a student amongst the first in her family to attend university, was completing the final year of her law degree.
The first major task when she received the award was to fine-tune how to carry out her vision of providing tailored support to talented students who are from underrepresented and disadvantaged backgrounds, and also among the first in their families to attend university.
Alaya describes the support and advice she received from her Innovate UK EDGE Innovation Champion as being “essential” to her personal and business growth over the past year.
With this crucial guidance she has moved her business, FirstGens, from a pre-seed entity to a company with a full five-year business plan.
This now underpins its pathway to delivering a student service programme that includes workshops, mentorships, role models, events and a community network, supporting students to navigate higher education and secure professional graduate careers.
The impact of having such a strong proposition has led to FirstGens already receiving interest from potential clients, achieving press coverage, and building its social media presence.
Pathway to success
For Alaya, the critical milestones have also originated from the personal strengths she has gained. The first key step on the journey to success was achieving the self-confidence needed to commit to the right business idea.
She says, “Winning the award allowed me to not have to work at a part-time job for another business to fund the project. Instead I could work on the business which gave me the drive to propel forward.”
This focus was then reinforced by the additional resources, insights, and business knowledge she gained through the Young Innovators programme.
“The money enabled me to purchase key resources and platforms that were essential for me to run effectively. The insight from my Innovation Champion was invaluable and I was provided support in creating a business infrastructure.”
Lastly, a suite of networking and introductions to business experts, including the Business West team, facilitated by KTN, provided Alaya with direct connections to individuals who were able to add value to her business.
She adds, “This created new ideas, perspectives, and insight into a lot of elements that may have taken me a long time to come across. The wealth of knowledge across the Innovate UK experts was extremely invaluable to tap into.”
Alaya used the grant funding to buy in much needed technology. She also brought in team members to support major undertakings such as in-depth market research.
Over the coming months she plans to deliver a larger scale pilot with an educational partner, generate content across social media platforms to provide free guidance, and create a new iteration of the FirstGen service.
Alaya’s goal is to gain valuable insight from the MVP pilot that commences in September 2022. From this, she will develop and push the service into the market life-cycle with a hope of securing four clients that will enable her to go full-time.
For Alaya, the financial boost and support provided by the Young Innovators Award and the programme have been life-changing.
“I simply wouldn’t be where I am without the grant and additional non-financial support from Innovate UK. The programme has been life-changing – I am a change maker and a proud young innovator.”
She adds, “I am now comfortable with describing myself as an entrepreneur.”
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The Young Innovators Awards are an annual competition from Innovate UK that finds, supports and celebrates young people with great business ideas.