On Thursday 27th September, the South West Digital Awards recognised hundreds of the region’s best innovators at Plymouth’s School of Creative Arts. With 10 varied categories, the awards acknowledged the entire breadth of the region’s talent. The Young Innovator award, sponsored by Plymouth University’s Enterprise Solutions, was awarded to three students from South Devon College.

Nikita Coombes, Ben Baber-Hale and Joel Stoddard-Turvey won the prize for their 2017 Fujitsu Operation Innovation win. The international competition required teams to use Internet of Things technology to solve a real world problem in the utilities, education or manufacturing sectors.

Nikita Coombes accepted the Young Innovator award on behalf of her teammates at the awards, alongside Conrad Saunders, Programme Coordinator for Hi-Tech at South Devon College.

The students’ winning project was ExPlus+ (Experience Plus), which aims to support the learning of students with Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC).

The team’s goals were to address three issues hindering the learning experience of students with ASC: inadequate staffing due to limited funding, the cost of specialist staff, and adding value to students’ experiences. Using Fujitsu’s Sensing Band, which senses the wearer’s vital signs, the team’s concept allows teachers to track the emotions of students with ASC. Teachers can then take action to change the environment and ensure students are comfortable.
The students’ success in an international competition shows the capabilities of young people from the South West and the opportunities provided by schools and colleges. Despite this, the issue of keeping hold of local talent is on the mind’s of local businesses and education providers. Conrad Saunders said of the challenge,

“[The solution] is engaging with the local economy and making sure that we’re engaging them in what we do with the learners to try and keep them local.”

On South Devon College’s current work in solving this problem, he added:

“We run foundation degrees at the college which are in line with local employment and driven by local employment. So from a college perspective, we are doing our best to keep those learners local.

There are obviously some skill sets that are driving them away, cyber being one of them. [But] there are a lot of local companies that have that around, it is difficult. We do our best with employer engagement to try and capture them locally.”


Anthony Peake, MD of Software Solved, accepted App of the Year for the company’s development of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health app. Anthony strongly echoed the message of opportunities for young people in the region, saying:


When you’re in a space like this with students, I want them to know that there’s a career in the South West for them. I don’t want them to think ‘Can I get a career?’. Of course they can – we’re desperate for them. Do we understand that they need to learn and be nurtured? Yes we do.”

Alongside South Devon College, Enterprise Solutions is a great example of education providers engaging with local businesses and employers to provide value, whilst giving students experience in real-world environments. Enterprise Solutions’ Rich Adams said:

“University of Plymouth recognises the creative nature of young entrepreneurs and would like to support those that are genuine innovators. [The South West is] rapidly becoming a hotbed for digital businesses where new companies flourish in a network of like-minded, ambitious entrepreneurs.”

We hope the awards will continue to support the growth of the South West’s digital economy, whilst highlighting opportunities for young people to engage with local businesses, increasing the likelihood of them remaining in the region.

Congratulations to Nikita, Ben and Joel. If you know an individual or group of young people (under 25) who deserve to be recognised at next year’s South West Digital Awards, nominate them for Young Innovator of the Year 2019.