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Melanin Gamers founder Annabel Ashalley-Anthony wins Barnet’s Big Idea 2020

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The winner of Barnet's Big Idea enterprise competition, jointly run by Middlesex University, Barnet and Southgate College and Barnet Council, is Annabel Ashalley-Anthony, for her pro-diversity and inclusivity gaming community Melanin Gamers.

Melanin Gamers founder and Barnet Big Idea winner Annabel Ashalley-Anthony, with her brother Alan

Melanin Gamers founder and Barnet Big Idea winner Annabel Ashalley-Anthony, with her brother Alan

Nearly 100 contestants – university and college students, recent Middlesex graduates and borough residents – entered their business or business ideas for the initial elevator pitch round, a record for the competition. Thirty-two advanced to the second workshop stage, getting help to develop their ideas and submitting a Business Model Canvas. From these, three finalists were chosen - two local residents, Annabel Ashalley-Anthony and Eileen Rumble, with a proposal for a combined nursery, co-working space and community hub, and MDX student Carlo Del Mazo with Fashion X Robots, which uses a robot to build a fashion garment from a computer model or to replicate a miniature or full-scale fashion sample.

Then coronavirus hit, and as the country was locked down, the organisers changed plans for the final, now requiring the contestants to submit video pitches. They received feedback on how to improve their pitches from Gal Darrash of forward-thinking business educators InnovateThis. The judges – Steve Leverton of Cornmill Associates, Vanessa Fernandes of NAYA London, Santander Universities' Simon Poulter and Paul Anderson Walsh of the Centre for Inclusive Leadership – viewed and scored the videos, then in a Zoom meeting deliberated and chose the winner. It was widely agreed that the standard of both the initial entries and the finalists was particularly strong this year. Businesses and ideas ranged from beauty products to digital property management solutions.

The competition, now in its seventh year, is generously supported by Brent Cross (part of Hammerson plc) and Santander Universities which each gave £5,000 towards a £10,000 prize fund. Also supporting the contest was accommodation provider The Stay Club Colindale, which has provided rooms for workshops, and communications agency CDS.

Melanin Gamers works to promote diversity in the gaming industry by organising panel talks on subjects such as representation, unconscious bias and the gender pay gap, hosting gaming tournaments around London, helping young people access paid and voluntary internships in the industry and showcasing content creators of colour via their social media. It currently has over 900 members and is growing daily.

Annabel says that taking part in the competition "was a phenomenal journey" for her and her team - brother Alan Ashalley-Anthony, Koye John-Charles, Laura Wilson and Donavan Shand. "On the first day, I was inspired by all the stories of what other people or groups were pitching,” she said. “At the workshops, my brother and I were able to socialise, hear ideas and share our fears and our triumphs."

"We all felt euphoric when we won (then proceeded to start screaming). We were all completely humbled by the overwhelming support we received. We have so many plans in terms of what we want to do. Our main focus is growing Melanin Gamers. We plan to use the money to organise more events for the community, panel talks to inspire and educate, and to invest in hardware and software so we can make improvements to our online content.”

Steve Leverton said on behalf of all the judges: "The judging panel appreciated the opportunity to be involved in this initiative and were impressed with the quality of ideas and the commitment that had gone into them.

"On balance, Melanin Gamers won the unanimous support of the judges, with a business that already has some traction, is scaleable and has the potential to facilitate young people in the borough being introduced to, and getting a foothold in, this growth industry. Thank you to Middlesex University and London Borough of Barnet for leading on this initiative and supporting all the applicants and organising the competition so well, in challenging circumstances.”

Chris Barnes, General Manager at Brent Cross said: “Initiatives such as Barnet’s Big Idea, which support start-ups in our local community, are more important than ever and we are proud to give our support again this year. We wanted to send a huge congratulations to the team at Melanin Games, along with all of this year’s finalists.”

Simon Poulter, Relationship Manager for the South East for Santander Universities, said: "It is testament to our colleagues at Middlesex University, and to the enterprising spirit of all the participants of Barnet’s Big Idea, that this competition has been such a success. Santander Universities is committed to supporting student entrepreneurship at MDX, and we look forward to continuing this activity in the future. I’d like to offer my personal thanks to all the superb supporters of this programme, and massive congratulations to Melanin Gamers for being worthy winners.”

Councillor Dan Thomas, Leader of Barnet Council said: “Barnet’s Big Idea reflects the strong relationship between Barnet Council, Middlesex University and Barnet and Southgate College and couldn’t happen without our close collaboration and the welcome financial support from Brent Cross and Santander Universities.

“Despite challenging circumstances, this year’s competition has once again seen some superb entries, a talented trio of finalists and an outstanding winner in Annabel.

“Barnet Council has been working hard to support local business since the coronavirus pandemic began, with millions already paid out in grants and advice and help given to hundreds of individual businesses. But it is our local entrepreneurs and small businesses themselves who are the economic lifeblood of the borough and who will play an essential role as we look to the future.”

Mariana Ulanowicz, director of The Stay Club said: “It was a pleasure to be involved in such an exciting competition. We wish the best of luck to the winner and we are looking forward to celebrating together when safe to do so.”

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