Sunday, May 3, 2015

IBMC 2015 Experience

My team SoPOD- Eric, AJ, and I, was one of the 42 quarter-finalists that attended the International Business Model Competition this weekend in Provo, Utah! 
Little did I know that the entrepreneurship world is this influential, respected, and powerful.

Aside from my 18-credit crazily busy schedule, I partnered with Eric and AJ, two senior soon-to-graduate, at UWRF won first place in the New Venture Competition (NVC). NVC is UWRF's first contest or playground for entrepreneurs. With an idea of creating a pod that encapsulates shampoo and eliminates the need of plastic bottles and bags, a water soluble film does the trick. Polyvinyl alcohol, aka PVA film, is what we used. It is similar to the laundry detergent pod concept. We had our prototype at this point although the formulation and packaging need further development and research before it hits the market.
*Prototype, derived from the Greek meaning "original, primitive," is basically a first preliminary product. Having a prototype helps the validating process and gives the investors or customers know what to expect. And it doesn't need to be fully functional. 
Along with Charge-E, who won second place with an idea of developing a device that charges electronic devices wirelessly, we headed to the Wisconsin Big Idea Tournament (WBIT). With Eric's compelling story telling skill and the sustainability initiative in mind, SoPOD won first place and took home 25K seed fund. That means we automatically qualified for the quarterfinal round at the International Business Model Competition (IBMC).
WBIT is at a whole different level. (http://www.businessmodelcompetition.com/)
Brigham Young University (BYU), Harvard University, and Standford University are hosts of the IBMC. 
Before the competition, we were pretty well aware of tough competitors, those who came from Japan, Harvard, BYU, and MIT. 
Friday, May 1. 42 teams were split into 4 groups. Each team had 10 minutes to present their learning experience, through testing assumptions and hypotheses, getting out of the building and validating them, making minor or major pivot accordingly by using the Business Model Canvas (http://www.businessmodelcompetition.com/business-model-canvas.html). Business model canvas mimics the scientific poster that any Chemistry majors undergrad like myself are well familiar with. A scientific poster presentation and a power point presentation/seminar are what required in order to graduate.
I attended some of the presentations from the other teams and thought all of their ideas were really AMAZING. They either fill up the gap in certain areas of life, fulfilling the needs of the customers, and help solving global-scale problems. 
As you may or may not now, fashion and apparel industry are what I passionate about as I fantasize about one day I'd be the CEO of my own company. Hence, I'm going to tell you this story about R.F Madison, one of the competitors at the IBMC. R.F Madison is an apparel brand, founded by a 6 foot 2 guy from Harvard, provides custom-made shirts designed specifically for the tall and athletics. He was so tall (and quite good-looking and well-dressed) that every time when you want to look for him, you just need to look at the ceiling. I thought his powerpoint presentation was pretty well designed and professionally done. Except, he didn't even finish his presentation within 10 minutes, and he got into the semifinal round. What in the world? I thought he would have gotten eliminated right away. The fact that he spent 5k in New York trying to construct a blazer as he considered a prototype made me giggle a bit. After the blazer incident, he settled down with selling button-up shirts. Anyways, later on, while I was getting food after the competition was over and the winner was announced, I was getting food right next to him. And I heard he said thanks to a lady who-was-his-mom-age who is the wife of one of the judges just because of her husband who helped him get into the semifinal. He's from Harvard, I see!
The teams that got my attention were 2 teams from Cambodia- my neighbor country, Africa, Chile, India etc. In fact, I had high respect to these teams who were so brave and even got into this round without having English as their first language.
6 teams were chosen to be in the finalist round. Unfortunately, SoPOD didn't make it in. Regardless, the support we got from family and friends, school's advisors and professors, supporters from everywhere were tremendously incredible. Our idea wasn't bad. Everyone we met had great ideas. Winner was the one who tells the story better, who is good at presenting, and whose idea was once thought to be the most ridiculously crazy idea.

This year winner is Kaitek Labs, founded by a 23-years-old Chilean girl whom I could totally relate to (being a Chemistry/Biochemistry major myself). I thought her outfit choice screamed victory. (Yup, she was wearing a red blazer and red shoes!) In fact, she magically validated her idea via multiple different entrepreneurship contests, including JumpChile (Chilean IBMC version) and several other international competitions, and received like 20 letter of intents form the fishing industries around the globe. In fact, Kaitec Labs was granted $340k from the Chilean government to fund the project. She came up with an idea of creating this Red Tide Detection Kit (RTDK), mimicking a pregnancy stick which contains a genetically engineered type of bacteria called biosensor that would change color either to red or blue if there was toxin presence. The targets toxins are in sea water caused from red tide phenomenon aka algal bloom that kills many organisms a year. She and her team are still in the process of creating the actual prototype, bacterial culture that could be able to detect the toxins or make the stick turn red or blue. The process is costly. I know! The pain she sees is her country's pain. Chile is located in the western side along the coast of South America. If this worked, the team promised to sell it for cheap, solved her country's problem and even world problem. One value proposition is added, who doesn't know what or how the pregnancy test stick is?! The most craziest idea but clever and relatable ever! And she brought home 25k in cash, plus another 1k for winning the pitch session. [You can probably tell I've been stalkin', haha]
However, I was kinda embarrassed and jealous. What have I done to my country?
Taking home 20k was the second place winner, REEcycle, Houston TX. The company's technology allows to recover neodymium and dysprosium (Rare Earth Elements, REEs) from computer hard drives that are disposed of around the country. I noticed the two members are Viet. Third place, Resumarizing, who took home 10k for a web-based service that allows employers find employees and employees seek jobs efficiently. Home-team BYU's Simple Citizen was pretty neat with a very first online application service for immigrants or for people in need to apply their green cards online and with a much cheaper price. They will launch the site on July 4th. 
6 teams who got into the final round definitely proved to the rest of us world-class validation from simply an idea along with the incredible skillful presenting skills. The whole competition wasn't about how good you can sell your product or service because it wasn't a sale pitch.

SoPOD will be in the running. After finals are set and over. I'll be fully dedicated to the R&D, product development, and possibly be involved in the designing/packaging as well. Together with Eric and AJ who quickly became my business partner-in-crime who said would definitely joined me in my next fashion-related project as which I'll be the CEO. Haha, I'm totally kidding! But who knows, "Dream high because sometimes I don't dream high enough," said Josh James, CEO of DOMO who was one of the respected individual in the entrepreneurship world. 

Thanks for reading,
An Trieu