Essex students to shadow senior executives at leading food and drinks company

  • Date

    Thu 30 Apr 20

Students who took part in Innovation Weekender

Two Essex students were on a winning team pitching business ideas to one of the world’s leading food and drink companies

Now Kaiyan Li , currently studying a Masters in Applied Economics and Data Analysis and Kamilija Garbauskaite, a second year BA Film Studies student, will get to spend a week with PepsiCo – the company behind global brands including Pepsi, Tropicana, Gatorade and Quaker Oats. 

The pair got the opportunity to take part in the Innovation Weekender event, thanks to their involvement with Essex Startups – the programme aimed at helping students gain business experience.

The three-day event, held just before lockdown, included workshops in creative thinking, commercialisation, presentation and active listening skills, as well as outdoor activities to boost team working and problem-solving skills.

In mixed-university teams, participants were encouraged to think about problems facing businesses today and use their creativity to find solutions.

Each team was given a brand to work with – Naked Smoothies, Doritos, Walkers and Quaker Oats – and challenged to make their brand more appealing to shoppers in their late teens and early 20s. Considerations included new packaging, new products and new ways of selling food and drink.

The competition was judged by senior executives of PepsiCo, who commented on the high standards of the pitches and ideas they were presented with. The winning team, which included Kaiyan and Kamilija, came up with ideas for the Naked Smoothies brand.

Kamilija, said: “The Innovation Weekender was a phenomenal opportunity. I have never experienced so many different emotions in such a short period of time: from total calmness to triumph. Lessons and experiences, about overcoming challenges, your fears and succeeding as a person, and most importantly as a team, will stay with me through my life journey.”

Andy Mew, Head of Start-Up Support, added: “Seeing what was achieved, in such a short space of time, is a fantastic credit to the creativity, problem-solving, and innovative skills, of the students who participated. The teams presented PepsiCo with some great ideas for them to explore further.

“The ability to tackle real-world, tangible business problems, and come up with novel solutions, is another prime example of the way that organisations can benefit from engaging with universities and access the emerging talent that our student and graduate communities possess.”

The Innovation Weekender, sponsored by EIRA (Enabling Innovation: Research to Application), was attended by students from five universities – Essex, Kent, Suffolk, the University of East Anglia and Writtle College.