Technology competition sends CEO back to school

Entrepreneur Darren Ridge returned to his old school 40 years after he left to challenge students to predict the future of technology in a competition devised by Polymedia.

Darren, CEO of Whiteley-based business communications company Onecom, took assembly at Havant Academy, Leigh Park and talked to pupils about his time at the school, then known as Wakefords.

Pupils who won the Onecom technology competition

After describing how he went from humble beginnings to lead a leading telecoms firm turning over £100m a year, Darren launched a Future of Tech competition, inviting the young people to think of an app, service or technology idea that could transform lives.

Students signed up in two age groups, to work with Academy staff and a mentor from Onecom to develop their ideas over five weeks. They were briefed to come up with ideas based around the Internet of Things, tying the contest to a Onecom specialism which involves the use of smart devices connected by high-speed internet.

Darren returned to the school to hear their Dragon's Den-style pitches, eventually choosing two winning ideas - one for an environmentally-friendly "smart bin" and the other for an app to help busy families log household chores.

The winning pupils received a Galaxy S8 smartphone with virtual reality headset and controllers. Darren and his fellow judges were so impressed by all of the entries that they also awarded a prize of a mini drone with camera kit to all the pupils who took part.

Darren said: "When we launched this competition, we had no idea how successful it would be – but we have been bowled over by the enthusiasm and ideas we have seen from the pupils.

“I have no doubt that there are future app developers and entrepreneurs here as well as young people who are definitely potential future Onecom employees.

“These young people have shown that they grasp the concepts at work and the limitless potential of the Internet of Things to transform the way we live and work in the future.”

Victoria Adams, Head of School at Havant Academy, said: “We are very grateful to Darren for coming back to his former school and inspiring the students here.

“The competition has created a huge buzz, and shown the young people how somebody from a background similar to theirs can go on to achieve great success through hard work and innovation.

“The pupils are delighted with their prizes, and have learned a great deal thought this project about technology, business and the process of pitching.”