PepsiCo compliments high standard of pitches at university hackathon

Olivia Miller
Picture by Matt Cook Photography

The EIRA Innovation Weekender 2020, led by Kent, proved a success for students involved in delivering innovative pitches to challenge sponsor PepsiCo.

In March 2020, 59 students from five universities including the University of Kent, the University of Essex, the University of East Anglia, the University of Suffolk and Writtle College participated in the Innovation Weekender event in Tunbridge Wells, funded by EIRA (Enabling Innovation: Research to Application).

Students were split into mixed university teams before being allocated brands for the challenge: Naked Smoothies, Doritos, Walkers and Quaker Oats. Their challenge was to make their brand and associated products more relevant to Gen Z. Judges were particularly looking at who had innovated against shopping habits, formulas/tastes, packaging, new product lines and routes to market.

Four senior executives from PepsiCo judged the student pitches virtually. The judges were: Dannii Portsmouth (VP HR, PepsiCo UK and Ireland), Nuno Pinto Leite (Senior Sales Director), Fernando Kahane (Marketing Director of Walkers Snacks) and Chris Goodall (West Europe Make Performance Excellence Director). The judges commented on the high standard of the pitches and the ideas of the teams and decided that the winning team was ‘team C1’: ‘Naked Power’, who were looking at the Naked Smoothies brand. The winning team members are offered an all-expenses paid, week long experience at PepsiCo, which they hope to take up later in the year.

Dannii Portsmouth, VP HR of PepsiCo UK and Ireland, said: ‘What a truly excellent event! It was great for us to spend time with the future generation of talent and to learn from them. Well done to all the teams involved.’

Marcus Wright, Knowledge Exchange Manager of Kent Innovation and Enterprise, University of Kent, said: ‘I’m always so impressed at how quickly our students, from across several institutions, can come together as strangers to innovate and develop their idea into a strong pitch. Furthermore, they create a supporting presentation and deliver back to an esteemed panel of judges in such a short period of time. The University is committed to working in partnership with the business community to bring innovative solutions to real-world business problems. Our students are a great example of our approach in providing new ideas and innovative approaches and I would like to thank our challenge sponsor PepsiCo, the students who participated in this event, and our sponsor EIRA (Enabling Innovation: Research to Application).’

Over the three-day event, students were encouraged to think creatively about issues that businesses are facing in the world today and to develop their transferable skills to find solutions. Workshops were delivered by University Staff on creative thinking, commercialisation, presentation and active listening skills. Outdoor activities such as rock climbing and archery were also a great opportunity for team working, skill development and problem solving.