Exeter graduate enters Lord Sugar's boardroom in The Apprentice

Published on: 22 October 2014

Solomon Akhtar will be taking on 19 other contestants to win investment from Lord Alan Sugar in The Apprentice.

Solomon Akhtar, University of Exeter graduate and technology entrepreneur, will bounce onto primetime TV screens on Tuesday night as he takes on 19 other contestants all hoping win £250,000 investment from multi-millionaire Lord Alan Sugar in The Apprentice.

Solomon, or Solly, whose motto is ‘Live Young’ graduated in 2013 the same year he co-founded Instabear, a service that allows event guests to share photos on social-media while simultaneously displaying them on big screens. Instabear can then add custom event branding and print the picture for people to take away.

He has always had an entrepreneurial streak. Joe Pearce from the University’s Innovation Centre said: “Solomon showed real entrepreneurial spirit throughout his time in Exeter and impressed us with his creativity, drive and level of professionalism. We wish him the best of luck facing Lord Sugar across the boardroom in The Apprentice.”

Prior to founding Instabear Solly had always wanted to start a business. While studying he ran events for students including a retail store ‘lock-in’ and group yacht trip round Croatia. Now he is taking on 19 other ambitious contestants in the battle of business acumen that is The Apprentice.

Enthusiasm

Solly, 23, said he is enthusiastic, energetic and personable and is passionate about technology and travel.

He added: “I am from the ‘ideas generation’ because of my age I understand technology and how to turn it into a business.”

This year’s show, the 10th anniversary series, returns on Tuesday 14 October at 9pm. But this time there is a twist from the start with viewers treated to a double dose of boardroom drama in the first week as the second episode airs on Wednesday 15 October. The series then continues on Wednesdays at 9pm on BBC One.

You’ll have to tune in to find out how Solly gets on. But he already seems pretty confident he says his best business skills are that he can: Think of ideas that work in a commercial sense; market products; manage budgets and pitch to clients. However in a clip from episode one of The Apprentice, where the boys are choosing a team name, Solly is very quiet.

In his audition clip Solly says: “I am a creative person, I love creativity. All those multiple tentacles that come out of just one idea. You plant that seed and it grows. If I can show people that and do that in every task I have a good chance of winning.”

He adds: “I think sometimes my over enthusiasm can annoy people. People don’t like to see other people really enthusiastic all the time, bouncing off the walls, but you take that in your stride. I feel it does bring out really good things in a lot of people, other people think I’m an idiot, but you take the good with the bad.”

But will this annoy Lord Sugar? He is already a hit with some Apprentice fans. One commentator on YouTube said: “He is already my favourite.”

Solly says his biggest regret is spending too much time and money at university on partying when he could have reinvested the money into his company. But this doesn’t seem to have done Instabear any harm.

The idea for Instabear came during Solly’s second year at university. Co-founder Tom Frew had the technical know-how to make it happen and an injection of cash to help start-ups from the HEFCE student start-up seed fund saw the business up and running. Their initial growth came from a mix of viral, social and event marketing and is a good example of how a small university campus can help a business can grow with minimal cost.

Following their launch Instabear landed a contract with Jack Wills which saw the first use of the platform for providing customers with a live screen and print outs. This contact was a game changer and led to Instabear delivering major events contracts for Jaguar, Land Rover, Ford, and other brands - including the launch of the F-Type Coupe and the JLR Auto Show in Los Angeles, which led to more than 3,500 photos printed and a viral reach of more than eight million people.

University

Solly said that Exeter helped massively and the University is ‘a bubble where amazing ideas can grow into small businesses’.

He explained that the University puts everything within easy reach, and young entrepreneurs can access support, expertise and advice from a number of sources including the University’s Innovation Centre. It also provides a captive youth market for products and services.

The ability of Instabear to provide the crucial blend of social reach and physical marketing has led to interest from potential investors. The company also picked up best graduate start up at this year’s SETsquared Student Enterprise Awards.

Judges were impressed with the business saying: “The blend between social reach and physical marketing linked to hard analytical data is highly innovative as is the concept of ‘live event printing’ directly into marketing material and publications.”

Another added: “Instabear, is a potentially excellent ‘for the moment idea’ with scope for real growth.”

Besides running Instabear Solly works at a creative agency in London.

SETSquared is a partnership between the Universities of Exeter, Bath, Bristol, Southampton and Surrey. It has just been named the second best University business incubator in the world.

Related links

» Instabear
» SETsquared
» The Apprentice
» WillyKini

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