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The RBS ESSA Awards: Rewarding the UK’s top student societies

Events attended by the country’s top employers, their own investment funds and a combined annual turnover of more than £1.8m: the UK’s student societies mean business. The RBS ESSA seeks to reward them, writes Gemma Howe

An annual turnover in five figures, 1,900 members and the RBS Group, JP Morgan and ICAP among its sponsors, this is Warwick Finance Societies (WFS), the ‘UK’s most enterprising student society’.

Members of the University of Warwick’s largest society were presented with the coveted title at this week’s RBS Enterprising Student Society Accreditation (ESSA) Awards, winning the Gold Award and £18,000 in prize money to take back to Warwick - once they’ve returned from a business trip to Hong Kong, that is.

If drunken antics and sordid initiation ceremonies are all that spring to mind at the mention of student societies, think again. In recent years, the UK’s student societies have upped the bar. They now raise large amounts of capital, organise an extensive calendar of events and, most importantly, are leading the field in entrepreneurship, aiming to create and educate a community of future business and society leaders.

The RBS ESSA, run by Find Invest Grow and sponsored by the RBS Group and LinkedIn, is an accreditation scheme launched to recognise the enterprising activities of the UK’s university societies. Following accreditation, societies were invited to enter the awards in the Bronze, Silver and Gold categories, depending on their level of enterprise. While WFS scooped the top prize, 15 other student societies received a share of the £55,000 prize fund given out on the day.

From the University of Birmingham’s Windsurfing Club to Brunel Entrepreneurs to Brighton and Sussex Waves Cheerleading Society, more than 310 student societies - that’s some 79,000 members - have received ESSA accreditation to date. And that number keeps on growing.

After whittling down the award entrants to just 22 societies, the finalists, along with members of the business community, graduate recruiters and press were invited to London’s Ravensbourne College for the presentation ceremony.

Former Welsh International rugby star Ieuan Evans, Director of Scratch Meals Phil Pinnell and Katharine Hirst, Director of DropGifts presented the awards, which also included ‘best series of events’ and ‘most innovative fundraising activity’.

Speaking at the event, Ieuan said: “It was an absolute pleasure to meet some of the UK’s most talented students. For me, two of the worst phrases in life are missed opportunities and unfulfilled talent and that’s where the RBS ESSA comes into play, it allows students to showcase their ambitions and skills, which in the current climate, is more important than ever.”

Finalists included The University of Cambridge’s Eco-House Initiative, which has been working to develop and implement technical improvements to transitional housing in Latin America and Salsa4Water from the University of Glasgow, which raised tens of thousands for Water Aid through its dance classes.

Chairman of WFS for 2012-2013, James Armstrong, said: “The prize means a lot to us: we've put in a lot of hard work this year and it's always nice to see your efforts recognised! It is particularly rewarding to be named the UK's most enterprising society.

“We have plenty of plans for next year and how to best spend the prize money towards the benefit of our members. The International Venture will be running again next year but this time our members will have the opportunity to fly to Mumbai, where they will enjoy a mixture of cultural, charity and finance based activities.  We have also began the process of setting up a modest student-run investment fund for educational purpose.”

Director of Find Invest Grow, James King, said: “It was our inaugural year running the awards, we were blown away with the quality of the entrants and were privileged to have the company of such inspiring people. The event was a huge success and it was great to see people making inter-university connections.

“With the employment landscape becoming increasingly competitive, it is more important than ever to celebrate and reward the achievements of the UK’s most enterprising students. We’re very much looking forward to seeing the standard of entries next year.”


  • Winner for most viewed promotional video (£5,000): Leeds Hockey (University of Leeds)
  • Runners-up (£1,000): Newcastle Rugby and Warwick Rowing
  • Finalists (£500): UEA Skydiving, Kent Psychology, Leeds Medical Students Representative Council, Cambridge Eco House Initiative and York University Snow Sports.


  • Most innovative fundraising activity (£7,000): Salsa4Water, University of Glasgow
  • Most innovative fundraising activity runners up, (£1,500): Nottingham SIFE and Cambridge Full Blue Racing
  • Best series of events (£3,000): Warwick Finance Societies
  • Best series of events runners up, (£1,000): Warwick Economics and Oxford University Business Guild.


  • Most enterprising society (£15,000): Warwick Finance Societies
  • Runner up (£5,000): University of Sussex Uni TV
  • Other finalists (£2,000): Manchester Entrepreneurs, Cambridge University Technology and Enterprise Club (CUTEC), Hertfordshire Entrepreneurs, Brunel Entrepreneurs and UEA (University of East Anglia) Management.