Plus X Brighton
This summer, Plus X Brighton welcomed two up-and-coming businesses from the University of Brighton to the innovation hub. These trailblazing new businesses were joint winners of a competition run by beepurple, the University of Brighton’s entrepreneurship support service for students and alumni.
The winning businesses, Catalyst Collective and Sociella, were judged on their pitching skills and business ideas by a panel of experts from the beepurple and Plus X teams, as well as Plus X Brighton member and Co-Founder of Thrive Now, Marc Convey.
Both businesses gave such inspiring pitches that the panel were unable to choose just one winner – instead splitting the prize into two for each to receive a 3-month residency in the Brighton innovation hub.
We spoke to the entrepreneurs to find out more about their future plans, and what winning the beepurple + Plus X Brighton residency means for their businesses.
Ella Gilchrist, Founder of Sociella
Sociella is a social media agency founded by University of Brighton alum Ella Gilchrist. She studied Textiles with Business Studies, graduating in 2019. While travelling in the summer of 2020, Ella realised that her heart was in social media, and came up with the business name and initial packages in her little red notebook.
Two years on, the business has seen rapid success. Most leads come via Instagram, the website, and word of mouth from her happy clients. Sociella works with businesses from all over the world, including the UK, Canada, America, Germany, and Switzerland. With a number of retainers, Sociella provides full management of businesses’ social media accounts, creating videos, imagery and written posts.
“It’s mainly B2C, and a lot of them are service providers themselves. There’s mindfulness teachers, skin nutritionists, beauty distributors, it’s like a whole big mix. It’s interesting to learn how to market to those different types of people and different types of businesses, I just really like the variety. Learning about different businesses and different industries is what keeps me going, and keeps me interested about what I do,” she said.
Ella originally came across the Plus X Brighton residency on the beepurple website. She said, “I’d been thinking for a while that I wanted to join a coworking space, and then when that came up I knew I had to apply for it. When I saw it was a pitching competition I was nervous, but I thought no, just go ahead and do it! It was when I found out I was shortlisted that the nerves hit! It was a really good experience as I’d never pitched like that before. It went really well, and I was really chuffed afterwards, and when I got the email with the ‘Congratulations’ subject line I was so excited!”
She said, “Working at Plus X Brighton will help my business journey through collaboration with other businesses, and being in a space that is positive, friendly, and beautiful as well! The connections and events will help me grow. I’m really looking forward to getting myself out there and introducing myself to other businesses and hopefully collaborating, working together or even just supporting one another. Sometimes it’s I think it’s really important to have those friends that you can just go to that you can relate to when you’re in that business life.
“Working from home can take a toll on your mental health when you’re not speaking to anyone. I like the hybrid mix. Sometimes if I know I’ve got to really concentrate and knuckle down, I actually do quite like being at home to just sit and concentrate and get it done. But when it’s more relaxed and like days like this, when you want to be out and not cooped up inside, it’s nice to add some variation to your working week. It’s definitely improved my mental health as I was getting to the point of thinking, ‘Is this what’s working for yourself is like? Is everyone this lonely?’ I feel a lot more confident getting out and about and networking.”
Ella told us she has been enjoying the perks of being a Plus X member including yoga, as well as working in different areas across the building. “I keep trying out different areas, this morning I was in the quiet space, and I like the kitchen area on Floor 03. Now I’m trying to venture out and try the whole building! I also like the Launch Space, you get the buzz of the café experience.”
Beepurple has been an invaluable support to Sociella as an alum. Ella has done a number of talks to the University after setting this as a personal goal for the year. This includes teaching aspiring entrepreneurs how to use Instagram. She said, “Helen and Clare on the beepurple team are so helpful. If you’ve got any questions, they’re on it and can help you out. They’re always there to offer their advice or hand you over to somebody that they know can help you even better.”
In the future, Ella hopes to launch the user-generated content side of the business. In the next few months, she predicts she’ll need to start building up a team or outsourcing work as Sociella continues to grow in demand.
Follow Sociella on Instagram.
Keyan O’Donnell and Hallie Lopez-Wells, Co-Founders of Catalyst Collective
Catalyst Collective is a music technology business founded by University of Brighton business students Keyan O’Donnell and Hallie Lopez-Wells, both aged 20. The business started out when Keyan’s college friends were struggling to find a drummer for their band, and Keyan realising that there was a gap in the market for networking between musicians, their audience, and the wider industry.
The in-development social media platform will start out as a website, and develop into an app as it grows. Hallie said, “We want to do this to be able to allow artists to congregate their social media to make it easier for them to actually build a social presence where they normally struggle. We want to do this by allowing artists, fans and all the venues onto the app, so that the artists can collaborate and connect with all the different aspects within the industry – communicate with fans, talking to venues, all the way to booking gigs.”
Hallie and Keyan plan to add gamification features over time to help drive musicians towards meeting their goals. “It’s going to the gym. You go there, you put in all this hard work, you don’t see any results, and you’re demotivated. We want to kind of make it so that they can visibly see that the results that are coming through.”
The pair met at their university accommodation as neighbours, with Hallie studying Business Management with Finance, and Keyan studying Business Management with HR. Now flatmates, the Co-Founders applied for the residency to find a place to work together away from home. Hallie said, “Plus X Brighton is a place where we can not only step out of our house physically but we can take our mind out of the rest that it gets home. You don’t work as well as you do in an office than you do at home.”
As well as running the business, they are both full-time students, while Hallie also works full-time. They have made good use of the 24/7 facilities at Plus X Brighton, coming in over the summer holidays, on weekends, and in the evening at times to suit their schedules.
Hallie said, “We’ve met people here we wouldn’t have met on the outside world. The entire mindset of Plus X is to be able to collaborate with people, to interact and share your ideas. It’s very much an office adapted for the working person who has side hustles, or for a generation who has a hobby that they want to pursue. It’s not just offering them an office space, it’s offering them a place to discover what they really want to do with themselves.”
As an early-stage business, the support of beepurple and Plus X Brighton couldn’t have come at a better time for Catalyst Collective. The pair are focusing on building a simplified version of their idea ahead of speaking to investors.
Keyan told us, “Right now, it’s about doing baby steps to show there’s traction here and to build up confidence so that when we go to an investor we have something to show beyond just an idea in our heads. At the moment, we’re boiling it down to what the key offering we’re providing is.” To start, they plan to use the Plus X Brighton audio rooms to interview people in the music industry and showcase what their business could enable.
The future seems incredibly bright for this ambitious pair. Both have aspirations to create additional businesses in the future, while Keyan plans to move into politics in the future. In the short-term, keep your eyes peeled for the website launch!
Follow the Catalyst Collective on Instagram.
Thank you to beepurple for their work supporting the next generation of changemaking businesses! We are honoured to play a part in helping University of Brighton students and alumni start successful businesses.