Made in Wythenshawe: young entrepreneur scoops £10,000 prize for visionary business

Aaron Darke of Zymurgorium celebrates winning the final of Test Town 201.. .

A talented young business brain from Northern Moor in Wythenshawe has won a nationwide competition – scooping a cool £10,000 to help start up his new enterprise.

Aaron Darke beat hundreds of contestants from across the UK to triumph at the final of TestTown, with his fledgling alternative brewing company – Zymurgorium.

Aaron, aged 23, said: “This is the biggest thing ever to have happened to my business.” 

Described as a community-focused meadery and brewery, Zymurgorium offers an innovative range of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, with many of the raw materials used grown or foraged in the Wythenshawe area.

The novel tipples on offer include champagne-style mead, rosehip copper ale, lychee vodka, kiwi pale ale and hibiscus cola.

To help make his exotic concoctions, Aaron grows his own berries and ventures to Chorlton Water Park and Wythenshawe Park, where he has harvested sloes, rosehips and figs.

The TestTown contest, organised by the Carnegie UK Trust, allowed young people to demonstrate their innovative business ideas and how they would work in a town centre environment – whether in a shop, office, green space or market stall.

Aaron won a regional final held in Wythenshawe in August, before travelling to Cambridge to take on contestants from Middlesbrough, Coleraine, Rhyl, Kirkintilloch, Bury St Edmunds and Perth at the national final, which was judged by a panel of six experts over the weekend of October 11 -12.

After a period of market research, Aaron was challenged to set up his own pop-up shop in Cambridge.

“The contestants were judged on the business’ viability as an ongoing success, branding, product quality and customer service”, explained Aaron.

“I also had to make a presentation to the judging panel, in a room packed with local businesspeople. Fitting everything that Zymurgorium means to me into the six minutes available was impossible. It was a great experience, but I have to say, also nervewracking. However, I think the nerves actually worked in my favour, as it gave me energy and made what I had to say more heartfelt.”

After receiving a cheque from the Carnegie UK Trust, Aaron plans to take stock and is determined to take full advantage of the opportunity by investing the £10,000 wisely.

“I’ve had great support from the regeneration team at Manchester council to help me get this far, so I will continue to work with them and Carnegie UK to work out how to best use the prize money”, said Aaron, who is currently hunting for his own permanent business premises in Wythenshawe.

“In the meantime, I’ll continue to invent new drinks – it’s business as normal.”

Not that Aaron’s range of creations could readily be described as ‘normal’.

Around 450 teams of young people aged 16 – 30 applied to take part in TestTown nationwide, making it one of the country’s largest ever entrepreneurial competitions.

Jim Metcalfe, TestTown UK Programme Leader, said: “We congratulate Aaron on the success of being crowned the TestTown winner. It’s without doubt that his business idea has the strength to go extremely far and we wish him and all of the contestants the very best for the future.”

Councillor Sue Murphy, Deputy Leader of Manchester City Council, said: “I’d like to congratulate Aaron on winning TestTown 2014 and I’m sure that the prize money will help him to go on to build a real Manchester success story.

“Aaron is just one of the many young people in the city who have the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit to become successful in business.

“TestTown is beneficial for young people, helping them to get real experience of how the high street works in practice and to develop their professional skills. It’s wonderful that we were able to play our part in giving Aaron the support he needed to win this prestigious competition.”

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