Tough Panel favours idea to benefit hospital hygieneTwo Oxford teams have been awarded £4,500 each after jointly winning Ideal Idol, the Oxford Entrepreneurs competition for business innovation.

On Tuesday night six teams of Oxford students battled it out to impress a panel of ruthless and business-savvy judges, including millionaire Deborah Meaden, a frequent panellist on the BBC’s Dragon’s Den.

Alex Oshmyansky, a 23 year-old St Cross DPhil student, and Dan Nicolau, a DPhil student from Balliol, made up a pair that won both the £4,500 first prize and the People’s Choice award for a further £500, which was decided by the audience on the night.

Their winning idea was a proposition to combat the spread of infections in hospitals. They came up with a design for door handles that release antiseptic onto the hands of people who use them. By increasing the number of times hospital workers and visitors disinfect their hands, they hope that their invention will reduce the numbers hospital-acquired infections, including the superbug MRSA.

“Twelve people in this room will die from hospital-acquired infections,” began Alex Oshmyansky, addressing a 300-strong audience on Tuesday night. He went on to say that 120,000 people die each year in the UK and USA from hospital-acquired infections and in the UK alone they cost the NHS one billion pounds annually.

Oshymyansky said, “Use of our product will dramatically lower transmission rates and save and improve lives, while tapping into an enormous and unexplored market.”

Sebastian Grigg, a senior investment banker at Credit Suisse and one of the competition judges, was full of praise for the idea. He said, “This was an exceptionally well-presented idea, and had a transparent social benefit.”

The other winner was Alistair Hann, a DPhil student at New, who also went home with a cheque for £4,500. His idea was Zoombu, an internet-based travel search engine that will search every permutation of coach, rail, air, sea and car travel between two locations in Europe.

The judges queried whether he would actually be able to design a computer program to do this. Hann replied with confidence, “I’m a smart guy. I know other smart guys and I’ll have a good team around me.”

All of the six finalists were male. Jenny Tsim, who coordinated the event, said that the quality of the ideas was more important than the gender of the inventors. She said, “When we got down to the last few candidates to make the final we had to ask: do you choose a girl to go through as a token girl, or do you go on the quality of the idea? The competition is about ideas, so we chose the best ones.”

But Reshma Sohoni, another judge, said that the male dominance of entrepreneurship is a trend that needs to change. “It’s a problem that’s rife, particularly in Europe. We just need to encourage more women,” she said.
In last year’s competition the judges decided to invest their own money, giving the winning idea an effectively blank cheque, marked ‘whatever it takes.’ This year, however, no judge was willing to take such a gamble. Deborah Meaden said, “I came here thinking that I could have done, but none of the businesses in the final were in an area that I have a speciality in.”

However, she would nonetheless advise the winners of the competition to seek expert advice. “I think anybody starting up should seek guidance and assistance,” she said.

She added, “They shouldn’t be afraid of seeking it out. After all, I still need help.”by Jack Farchy, Deputy News Editor