Biz Plan contests: Doorway to opportunities!
CONTESTS GALORE Panelist shares his inputs at MDI Gurgon's DISHA
SUYASH Jaiswal, a second-year MBA student at NMIMS recently had the experience of a lifetime. He travelled to the University of North Carolina, USA to participate in the ‘X-Culture International Business Competition’, as a finalist. Here he had to collaborate with three B-School students from other nations, to come up with a plan to help a multinational company penetrate a new market.
Suyash’s team wrote a proposal to help Spanish telecom major Telefonica enter a market close to Suyash – his country India - one of the few where Telefonica has no presence. His team’s efforts were well-received and they won first place in this international business plan competition, which attracts MBA students from around the world.
Array of competitions
Today, business plan competitions have increased in both number and appeal. Most Indian B-Schools, technology institutes and even design schools, conduct them at national and international levels. The themes are diverse, as are the formats and judging criteria. While some offer cash prizes, others offer an incubation platform. Boot camps and mentoring by industry and entrepreneurs are a common feature. And as the world shrinks into a global village, international B-Plan contests are also gaining traction amongst students in India.
Suyash Jaiswal and teammates at X-Culture
Diverse themes and formats
While X-Culture seeks compelling business plans for prominent MNCs, GE’s Edison Challenge seeks to harness technology for progress. Mashup by WeSchool offers a different learning curve - entrepreneurs and MBA students work together as teams to present innovative business plans. IIT Kharagpur’s Impresario invites entries in three categories: Clean Tech, web and mobile application-based ideas, and social initiatives. The latter challenges participants to come up with business models that also address a social issue or problem. Big ticket contests like Global Social Venture Competition by UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, fall in this category.
The regional finals are scheduled in December 2012 at ISB, Hyderabad for participants from Asian and African nations, all competing for a spot in the finals to be held at Haas. MDI’s Disha, also a social B-Plan contest, challenges B-School students to come up with a viable plan to market products or scale up existing models by rural innovators on the radar of the National Innovation Foundation (NIF). Rural innovators comprise artisans, farmers and others who have the potential to become self-sufficient. In 2012, 80 teams registered. Of these six were shortlisted to present it to a senior expert from NIF.
An exciting theme for BE/B.Tech students, four final year B.Tech students - Jayesh, Aditi, Abhijeet and Abhinav, bagged the top prize at the GE Edison Challenge 2012. Held at the GE India Technology Center in Bangalore, the fifth edition asked participants to come up with a compelling “Idea for India”. IIT Guwahati’s Team Aarogya proposed a wireless EEG to monitor autistic patients while runner-up ‘Biomedical Trailblazers’ from VIT designed a blood vessel detection device called ‘Veinloc’ to make the process of Venipuncture, i.e., blood withdrawal more effective. Both projects focused on harnessing technology to find economically viable but cost-effective solutions to common problems. “Our vision is to make EEG an accessible tool so that development abnormalities like as autism can be diagnosed easily at small hospitals and health camps,” shares Team Aarogya.
“B-Plan contests are a good platform to understand what entrepreneurship is really about. One can have 20 good ideas, but which ones can convert into a business? What’s more the best people to mentor participants on entrepreneurship are experienced entrepreneurs!”
Prajakt Raut, Co-founder - The Hatch for Startups
GE Edition Challenge 2012 winners Team Aarogya of IIT Guwahati
Students enter contests for several reasons. “I participated primarily for the learning experience, and as a CV-building exercise,” shares Suyash. A large takeaway for him was interfacing with five or six international counterparts in Round 1, where they had to come up with a business plan for social networking interface for Yahoo! He worked across time-zones and with students for whom English is not their primary (or even secondary) language.
Communication happened through Skype/Google+ and interacting via e-mails and chats, which simulates how global teams communicate. On the other hand IIT Guwahati’s Team Aarogya had already been working on their entry for GE’s Edison Challenge since a year. “We thought that it was a very good opportunity to showcase our idea, and know what the top researchers in the field thought of our idea,” they share. They now continue to work on the it as part of their Bachelor’s thesis project. Surprisingly, entrepreneurship was not the top reason why students participate, however, many admitted that the platform gave them exposure to this aspect in a bigger way.
TECH INNOVATORS GE Edition Challenge fialists at the GE India Technology Centre in Bangalore
Mentoring, a big draw
Industry engagement is a focus area for many B-Schools, today, and plan contests are a great platform for networking and learning from senior professionals, seasoned entrepreneurs and even potential investors. “Our design was scrutinised by senior experts from GE and at every stage of qualification, we received a list of areas where we could improve on the same,” share VIT’s Biomedical Trailbazers.
Mentoring happens in many ways. IIT Bombay’s Eureka offers intensive opportunities to the top 50 teams from angel investors, venture capitalists, sector and business experts. They are also put through a start-up training programme. Some contests like IIM Ahmedabad’s Centre for Innovation Incubation and Entrepreneurship (CIIE), recently organised a bootcamp for cleantech start-ups. Mentors comprised academics, senior professionals and entrepreneurs from the cleantech domain.
While the lowest cash amount that can be won is Rs. 15,000, IIT Bombay’s Eureka awards Rs. 500,000 to the winner and Rs. 300,000 to the runner up. The prize money for Haas’ Global Social Venture Competition is $50,000 (approx Rs 2,737,000). Incubation funding is another offering by some contests. For e.g., GE’s Edison Challenge offers incubation funding of Rs 10 lakhs to the winner. VIT’s Biomedical Trailblazers would like to use their incubation funding of Rs 5,00,000 to develop a real time model of the device and test it to make it suitable for the market.
Judging parameters (varies across contests)
Networking with investors
B-Plan contests are also good platforms to get noticed by angel investors and venture capitalists, who participate as judges and mentors. Prajakt Raut, judge and mentor for Vincenza, a business plan competition by MDI, Gurgaon, is also the co-founder of the Hatch for startups, a pan-India accelerator, business incubator and pre-seed stage fund.
Prajakt agrees that 80% of students who participate in B-Plan contests are not seriously considering entrepreneurship at this juncture. They participate as a way to network, learn and grow. However, he feels B-Plan contests are a good platform to get a glimpse into what entrepreneurship is all about. “While ideas are many, which can convert into a business, is the question,” shares Prajakt, who keeps an eye out for budding entrepreneurs like the founders of Tune Patrol, three engineering students from BITS Pilani. Tune Patrol, social music discovery platform, is now being mentored by the Hatch. So, could the next big entrepreneur be you?