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Leeds' entrepreneurial spirit surviving recession

Enterprising graduates from the University of Leeds are refusing to allow the recession to hold them back, says Sir Peter Thompson, founder of the annual award for promising fledgling businesses.

This year's prize was awarded to Think Pacific, the brainchild of two Leeds graduates at the annual Enterprise & Innovation Gala Dinner at the University of Leeds last night (27 April 2009). Launched last year by two Leeds graduates, Think Pacific was named winner for its efforts to bring basic infrastructure and resources such as running water and health clinics to a tiny island in the Pacific Ocean.

From this summer onwards the company will send out groups of 16 volunteers to work on development and community projects whilst staying with Fijian families. Founder Harry Hunter graduated from the University of Leeds and his business partner Simon Darker from Leeds Metropolitan University. The pair sought advice from the University of Leeds' Careers Centre business start-up team, Spark, in order to transform their passion and ideas for volunteering abroad into a sustainable business.

Harry Hunter says: "This award really proves to us that someone believes in what we are doing, it's a real honour to know that a successful businessman such as Sir Peter Thompson can see what we are hoping to do and thinks our efforts are worthwhile. We think the coming year will be incredibly exciting and challenging and it is wonderful to have this kind of support."

Since 2008 Harry and Simon have been working with the local authorities on the island of Moturiki to set up a scheme to provide access to clean running water and install flushable toilets - currently the island's 2000 inhabitants rely solely on rainwater. Their volunteers will help to dig bore holes and direct water to tanks, with the long-term aim of providing every house on the island with running water. The volunteers can also choose to work with local youth groups offering sports coaching.

Sir Peter Thompson says: "The choice was difficult as we had a number of entries which demonstrated that entrepreneurship at Leeds University is alive and kicking despite the recession. We chose 'Think Pacific' as its two leaders showed determination and business acumen - and unlike many enterprises their cause is a noble one, as they want to help poorer nations. Harry Hunter and Simon Darker have managed not only to help the Fijians, but have also established the basis of an expanding adventure holiday business. They are worthy winners."

Harry and Simon's ultimate aim is to set up a charitable trust called the Think Pacific Foundation, which will offer apprenticeships and education opportunities to islanders who currently have very limited access to education beyond primary level.

Harry says: "Central to our philosophy is a really strong desire to empower the youth of Fiji to enable the islanders to live sustainably in the future. Our plan is to work with local community leaders to provide the training and resources that will make this happen. By investing in Think Pacific, Sir Peter Thompson is also investing in the Fijian communities and also in the personal development of the volunteers we send out."

For further information:

Please contact the University of Leeds Press Office on +44 (0)113 343 4031 or email pressoffice@leeds.ac.uk

Notes to editors:

1 - Spark is a business start-up service, based at the University of Leeds Careers Centre, which advises and assists students and graduates who are interested in self-employment or setting up a business. Spark is funded through the Higher Education Innovation Fund. More information can be found at careerweb.leeds.ac.uk/spark/

2 - The Sir Peter Thompson award is given to promising entrepreneurs from the University of Leeds and is worth £5000. Sir Peter Thompson is an alumnus and honorary graduate of the University of Leeds (BA Economics, 1952; Hon LLD 1991) who was knighted in 1984 for his part in the employee-led privatisation of the National Freight Consortium. He is currently the chair of Child Base Ltd and he works with several other start-up companies

3 - More information about Think Pacific and its projects, including their adventure activities such as kayaking and trekking can be found at http://www.thinkpacific.com/

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