Norwich City College students survive visit to Dragons’ Den in St Andrews Street, Norwich

They have a fearsome reputation for turning even the most confident of entrepreneurs to jelly, but students at a Norwich college have not only survived but emerged triumphant from their visit to the Dragons' Den.

It might not have been Peter Jones, Theo Paphitis, Duncan Bannatyne and Deborah Meaden that 30 or so students from Norwich City College were facing as part of the Eco Business Challenge but Norwich's own dragons were no less intimidating.

Six teams made up of students from the Access to Business Management course at the Ipswich Road-based college had their sustainable business ideas scrutinised by a team of industry 'dragons' at St Andrews House, St Andrews Street Norwich.

The event, supported by Norwich Carbon Reduction Trust, UEA Business School and Norfolk County Council, was the culmination of a project that has seen college students develop new eco business ventures guided by experts in low carbon and renewable technologies.

More than 30 business and engineering students have been working since November to develop plans for an environmentally sustainable new product, or service.

Their ideas range from micro-electricity generation to domestic drainpipes, and from plant tubs which store rainwater to a master-switch device to track energy use in the home.

Yesterday's final challenge saw them trying to impress a panel of judges, including UEA tutor Gideon Middleton, windfarm engineer Kelly Houlker, Yvonne Mason, founder of the Mason Trust, Chris Rowe of LJ Create and City College director Siobhan Eke.

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The dragons were given a tough task in choosing a winner with six 'exceptional' presentations with the idea for a thermal lunch box concept - which included compartments for carbs and vegetables - emerging as the eventual winner.

Adam Edney, 30, from Norwich, and Lewis Allen, 20, from Hellesdon, were two of the students from the winning team and said they were very surprised but 'ecstatically pleased' to have won.

Stuart Catchpole, innovation manager at the Hethel Engineering Centre who chaired the event, said: 'I think it's been a really fantastic project. It's really engaged the students and really developed their entrepreneurial and problem solving skills which is fantastic.'

Richard Burley, head of school, technology, environment and sport at Norwich City College, said he was very impressed with all the students who took part.

He said: 'A huge thank you to all the teams for your commitment to this project. It's been quite amazing watching your ideas grow from the first day in here back in November through to the discussion work two weeks ago and through to today when you've got your ideas to some exceptionally innovative presentations.' Mr Burley said they had faced 'daunting questions' but handled the questioning in a really 'confident' way but also had learned how to work as a team and had tried to address the issue of sustainability in the workplace which would stand them in good stead for the future.

College principal Dick Palmer said: 'There is huge potential for bright young entrepreneurs with eco business ideas. We can expect many of the most important business innovations in the coming years to be focused on providing solutions to environmental problems or improvements to green technologies.'

Rachel Watson, co-ordinator at Norwich Carbon Reduction Trust said the Eco Business Challenge had been a 'fantastic partnership between education and business, helping to foster students' understanding of sustainability, innovation and entrepreneurship'.

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