Entrepreneur reaches final of UK competition



Alex Birks

A talented entrepreneur who recently graduated from Heriot-Watt University has narrowly missed out on winning a nationwide competition run by Santander Universities.

Alex Birks was one of eight finalists from the original 83 entrepreneurs who took part in the virtual pitching competition held this week. The Emerging Entrepreneurs competition is a business acceleration programme dedicated to supporting student and graduate start-ups with all entrants representing Santander partner universities throughout the UK.

The Edinburgh-based businessman launched his company Suji BFR, in 2017. It specialises in Blood Flow Restriction (BFR) training to help sports men and women recover from injuries through a mixture of low intensity exercise with blood flow occlusion that produces similar results to high intensity training.

Alex’s business venture has attracted clients from major sporting institutions including Scottish Rugby, Edinburgh Rugby and the Lawn Tennis Association. It is a business that rose from unlikely beginnings when Alex, a former boxer, broke his tibia, tearing his ACL and damaging his meniscus.

Frustrated with the time taken to return to peak performance after completing rehabilitation, Alex began speaking with sports professionals, seeking to improve his situation. He was introduced to BFR training, which inspired him to launch his business.

Congratulating Alex on his achievements to date, Dr Gillian Murray, Deputy Principal Enterprise and Business at Heriot-Watt, said: “At Heriot-Watt, we have a long and distinguished record of producing successful entrepreneurs who have impacted society in many positive ways.

“Our courses and unique links with industry are equipping the next generation of business leaders with all the tools necessary to succeed.

“The Enterprise team at GRID, Heriot-Watt have played a key role in supporting Alex throughout his journey. Providing strategic support, a highly collaborative environment and advice and expertise on a range of subjects including intellectual property and investment.”

It has been a busy summer for Alex.

After graduating from Heriot-Watt with a 1st Class BEng in Robotics, Autonomous & Interactive Systems, and benefitting from early stage support, training and funding from BioCity and the Royal Society of Edinburgh, he and his fellow competitors also took part in a series of virtual, fortnightly webinars of online support sessions as part of the Santander Universities Emerging Entrepreneurs Programme.  

Alongside panel discussions and workshops, coaching and peer-to-peer learning, the programme also focuses on responding to key challenges and goals for start-ups during the current coronavirus crisis.

Matt Hutnell, Director of Santander Universities UK commented: “We’re delighted to celebrate 10 years of supporting entrepreneurship with our dedicated new programme for student and graduate start-ups. Adapting to the current environment, our new digital offering will support young entrepreneurs with their innovative business ideas particularly in light of present-day challenges.”

Santander UK launched its 2020 Santander Universities Emerging Entrepreneurs programme in celebration of 10 years of supporting entrepreneurship.

Since the competition launched in 2011, Santander Universities has awarded more than £500,000 in support of student start-ups across the UK and given universities the chance to showcase entrepreneurial talent from across the country. Overall, Santander Universities has provided over £2.5m of funding each year to support entrepreneurship at its 85 UK university partners.  


Craig McManamon

Job title
Communications officer