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Could your idea change the world?

Percy Shaw’s did.  

In the early 1930s he wondered why no one had thought of embedding little mirrors in the centre of roads to reflect back oncoming lights at night - a concept of ‘Cat’s Eyes’. Simple, inexpensive, almost obvious. 

But why had no one thought of this before?  What stimulated his thought and brought together the idea and what circumstances brought the idea to mass reality? (answers hereJ)

Stories, ideas and outcomes like this fascinate me: Why him?  Why then? How did it become a reality?  And the biggest question of all: How many other simple, game changing, world improving ideas have human beings had - that simply never became a reality? 

Small ideas can lead to big changes.  And small opportunities can be the little key that unlocks a huge door to a better world.

That’s why, last year, I founded just IMAGINE if…, my social enterprise and innovation competition that celebrates ideas and maximises the potential for really good ones that can address our global challenges.  It exists to drive social, economic and environmental change in the world through finding ordinary people with such extraordinary ideas and giving them every chance to become a reality.  It does so by partnering with a world leading British university and collaborating with progressive, mission led, purposeful businesses and entrepreneurs, to offer academic research and business support opportunities through our annual competition. 

In February 2019, our inaugural competition took place at the University of Reading, with ten finalists pitching their ideas to an audience of purpose-driven entrepreneurs and business leaders, who voted for Alexander, a young man from Peru, with an audacious idea to create a quinoa and tarwi based milk from the wild slopes of the Andes.  

His local, tiny start up business makes milks which use 3000% less water than cows and 300% less than almonds to produce, protect bio-diversity, exploit the nutrition of ancient grains and are produced under a business model that protects value for small holder farmers.  It’s an exceptional idea, that in the months since February has leapt towards a European commercial launch planned for next year, with just IMAGINE if… help through:

·      Bespoke university research into the impact and benefits of such bio-diversity, 

·      University knowhow on obscure regulation around importing tarwi into the EU, 

·      University collaboration on minimum viable product development, 

·      Henley Business School advice on business plans and structure, 

·      Business partners’ pro bono legal, commercial, product and marketing support; and

·      Entrepreneurial leaders personal time, networks and investment opportunities. 


For the 2020 competition, I’m so proud that Durham University has teamed up with just IMAGINE if… to host, deliver and offer its world leading research to the winner.  Durham is ranked in the top 75 universities in the world and its influence is apparent in its Durham Inspired awards and campaign and the establishment this year of its ground breaking Global Challenges Centre for Doctoral Training which hosts its first intake of 26 PhD students from the global south, each working on research specific to a local issue, reflecting a global challenge.  I recently had the privilege of meeting some of these students.


As Professor Claire O’Malley, Pro-Vice Chancellor (Global) at Durham University, says: 

“Durham University prides itself on world-changing research and many of our researchers are already working on projects to tackle global problems, from improving soil health in Africa to helping to prevent natural disasters in Southern Asia.  We are delighted to support and host the competition and look forward to the winner and our expert researchers working together to make a real difference to the world.”

So, just IMAGINE if… 2020 is now open to applications from anyone across the world who has a business idea that could help address at least one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The 17 goals promote prosperity while protecting the planet. They seek to tackle global issues, such as poverty, climate change, education and hunger.

The 2020 winner will receive bespoke research support from Durham University researchers who are already working on a number of projects to tackle these challenges, as well as significant Durham Business School support. The prize has been generously supported by the sponsorship of organisations for whom the Sustainable Development Goals are central to their very existence and mission in their work:  top international law firm, Hogan Lovells, 327 year old leading bank Coutts & Co, early stage investor Northstar Ventures’ foundation, local economic development agency Business Durham and The Lindley Foundation. 


In addition, a winner will receive invaluable personalised and bespoke 12 month programme support in innovation from the leading technology innovation centre CPI and in business growth and professional services support from Young Foodies.  

Indeed, each of the 10 finalists will also receive workshops and tailored support from Durham Business School and business partners One Young WorldElla’s Kitchen and Morgan -IAT, plus one-on-one time with nationally recognised business leaders, social entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs whose experience and insight are relevant to each finalist’s specific focus.

I am passionate about the power business has to make a difference to societal, environmental and economic challenges. In 2006, I founded Ella’s Kitchen, a baby and toddler organic food company which now has a 30%+ share of the UK baby food sector, that has succeeded because it innovated and gained trust through being mission led, purpose grounded, and people centred.  just IMAGINE if… is therefore my way to try and super-boost more great innovative, world improving ideas to become reality.  

I would really encourage you to apply for the competition and see if your idea could change the world. The competition is now open for entries and closes at midnight on 2 February 2020. To apply, visit

See my call to apply here!