Everyone was silent. All that could be heard was the clatter of stilettos approaching the stage. I looked up, and I saw a member of the jury who watched me and my team during the preliminaries, and as she walked towards the microphone, my heart pounded even more. “I will go ahead and introduce the first finalist…”, she announced. The hall which was teeming with almost 400 people grew more silent. Then, she continued, “From the Asian Institute of Management, Team Dynameals!”1
That’s us! We were called.
Everything happened so fast. We went to the stage, presented our idea, and before we knew it, we were back on our seats. We were shaking, but we made it that far. We didn’t win though, but the whole experience has been amazing and memorable2. We learned a lot from the competition that changed our perspectives about business and entrepreneurs1.
About the Competition3
Hult Prize is an annual international business competition that has been helping entrepreneurs build their social enterprise for the last ten years4. Universities across the globe participate and compete against each other based on a theme announced every year. The theme for this year (2019) is “For Us, By Us: The Global Youth Challenge” which aims to develop ideas that will create jobs and solve the problem of youth unemployment across the world.
The Hult Prize 2019 received more than 200,000 applications from over 120 countries. Each team needed to provide an introduction about the members and about its initial idea, which are all to be submitted online. After this, teams were selected for the regional finals to be held across 25 countries. The winners of each regional rounds, plus ten wildcard winners, will then be invited to a six-week training in the Hult Castle in London, UK. From the attendees, six teams will be chosen to pitch in the United Nations in US where one team will win a seed funding of USD 1 million.
Our team from the Asian Institute of Management – composed of four members, namely: Aiza Mares Irog-irog, Ashay Gangadhar Nayak, Katrina Angela Valencia, and Kevin Vosotros (yours truly) – got selected in the first round and competed in the regional finals held in Ho Chi Min City, Vietnam last 4th to 6th of April 2019. We finished as one of the top six out of 44 teams.
Our Journey to the Competition
Our journey in joining competitions began since the start of our program last September 2018. The members of our team were individually vocal about it to the point that we signed up to every available competition there is – such as Ignite 2018, PRME 2019, and Yale ILCC 2019. Because of our passion to compete in the international arena and to apply what we have learned in the MBA program (so far), we decided to join forces for the Hult Prize Challenge.
For the initial round, the deadline of submission of entry was December 31, 2018 (which was already moved from an earlier date), and I can still remember that a couple of weeks before the deadline, which coincided with the Christmas and New Year break, we conducted almost three or four online meetings (via Facebook Messenger) just to finalize our idea – which is, by the way, totally different from the business concept that we presented during the actual competition (Good thing is that Hult Prize allows teams to change their idea as long as properly communicated. Although, a couple of weeks before the competition, the organizers would ask for the final concept).
After submitting, we kind of forget Hult to give way to MBA’s academic requirements, but in the morning of January 18, we had the surprise of our lives – when we received the confirmation that we got into Hult Regional Finals in Vietnam! From then on, we started working on our idea, and this was when we realized that joining a competition is not an easy task because we had to juggle it together with our academics and personal lives. Not to mention the several roadblocks that we met along the way. We jumped from one idea to another because we found them infeasible as we did further research (the idea we presented in the Regional Finals is already our fourth!). Also, we have to talk to a lot of people such as professors and industry professionals to further refine our business model. One month before the competition, we were already cramming because we didn’t have a working idea yet. And three weeks before our flight, our goal was just to present a decent idea and to not make a fool of our school and of ourselves5.
With the guidance from our mentor, Prof. Sandeep Puri, and the last-minute advice from Prof. Richard Cruz, we compiled our deck and flew to Vietnam in April 3. It was a mid-summer, dark night.
The Competition Proper
When we landed in Vietnam around midnight, we were welcomed by Sam, the guide assigned to us. He briefed us in the airport regarding the venue and the activities for the following day. Unfortunately, a few days before the competition, the organizers changed the location. We already booked our hotel (which we couldn’t cancel anymore), so instead of being in a walking distance from the venue, it became a 45-minute travel from our hotel.
The start of the three-day event is the Orientation Day where the program flow, the mechanics, and the criteria for judging were discussed. Our team was included in the last set of orientees, and when we got into the venue, we immediately realized how global the competition is. There were participants from nearby countries like Japan, China, and Singapore and also from far-flung nations like Israel and UK. It was both a source of pride and fear: pride because we were competing in an international arena, and fear because there was a slim chance that we would make it since we were competing against 44 teams. Nonetheless, we listened in the discussion, and when we were back in our hotel, we reviewed our deck and adjusted our presentation according to the criteria set forth by the organizers6.
The second day of the competition is the preliminary presentations wherein each team would present in front of a panel for 6 minutes, and after which, there would be a 4-minute Q&A (NOTE: they are very strict on the time limit!). We were assisted by Mia, who was our guide for the competition proper. Our team was the second presenter in the morning, and it was nerve-racking. As a rule, we were not allowed to watch our fellow morning presenters, but we were required to watch the afternoon teams. This was the same for the afternoon presenters. After each presentation, there would be a deliberation among the judges together with the teams who watched the presentations. The judges would ask for feedbacks, and after getting those, there would be a call-back session wherein judges would have the chance to further clarify things from the teams who just presented (though this is not a guarantee that the called-back teams would be included in the finals).
As we wait for our turn, we met fellow Filipinos who were participants in the contest, though they were representing a university in Japan. After the first team finished presenting, we were called into the venue. It was cold. We entered and walked straight to the stage. “Time starts now!”, a voice shouted from the side. We began. The audience became blurry, and all our attention was focused on the judges. They were nodding. Some were writing something. It was intense. But we had no time to process if they were liking our work. Words flowed through our mouths. Though we stuttered once in a while, we managed to finish the presentation within the set time. When we finished, we were catching our breaths, as if we just finished a marathon race. Then, it was time for Q&A. Most of the questions are about the operations and how we are going to ensure that we adhere to our value proposition. “Time’s up”, and that was the end of our time. And just when we thought that our months of preparation has just finished in that instant, our team was called back, and for another four minutes, further questions were asked.
Before heading home, we stopped by in a Vietnamese restaurant to eat (actually, we had to get back to the venue again because the event was not yet over! Haha). During the night, we were still adjusting some things in our presentation. We didn’t know how, but each one of us (though unspoken) had a feeling that we might be in the final presentation the next morning.
The last day of the competition is the final presentation wherein the top six teams plus one lucky pick would present their idea (same deck) in front of the whole congregation. It was nerve-racking. The hall was teeming with people – participants, different organizations, school representatives, and the judges and organizers, and the auditorium was a humongous site to behold. Before we entered the venue, we practiced one last time. Then, the program began.
There were several introductions and there were performance numbers, but when the announcement of the finalists came, everyone fell silent. And the very judge who asked our team the last question during the call-back session approached the microphone and announced the first finalist. At the word “Asian…”, we knew already that it was us. We were ushered into the stage, and without any time for further preparation, we presented. We can say that we did better in the finals than in the preliminaries because we were more eloquent and confident. Again, we finished in the set time. Question were asked, and we’re done. After all finalists had presented, the judges deliberated in a closed room. After about an hour, the judges returned, and they announced the winner. It was not us though. It was the Indian students from the University of Hong Kong who won whose idea is a service that would provide work history to young workers in the informal sector.
After the event, there was a party wherein we got to talk to the judges and get their feedback about our idea. Also, we were able to interact with our fellow participants.
From the experience, we realized that AIM students are at par with the rest of the world. Yes, our school is not as prestigious as the others, but that doesn’t mean that our quality of education is inferior1. Also, we realized that there a lot of opportunities that we can work on1,5, and we hope that this competition will encourage more youth to pursue their business ideas5. With this being said, we learned that there is a bigger network outside of school. There is a community of people who strive to make this world a better place to live in. If we want to do something, or to effect change, all we have to do is find a network, and in this vast connected world, we are sure to find someone who will support our good ideas1,5.
“The idea for the competition must be aligned with the theme of the competition. Additionally, the key factor for one to consider is to check for the feasibility of implementing the idea. It should be realistic, practical and achievable. One more important factor to consider is that the idea should be scalable. It is important to note that when we pitch our idea, we must not treat it just like an idea, the thought process must be such that we are running this business in real sense.”3
“The presentation should have a compelling story and there should be a flow in the presentation. The learnings from the Strategy for Startups in developing empathy canvas, value proposition canvas, and business model canvas are very useful tools that can help the presentation. Maintaining timelines for the presentation is important. The practice is the key!!!”3
“Preparation for Q and A: Our team prepared for the possible questions and what would be our response. We practiced many possible such situations. It is important to see the idea from a judge’s point of view and develop a framework of questions that can be asked and a response that is appropriate.”3
“Academic frameworks: The learnings at AIM in terms of subjects such as Strategy for Startups, Management Communication, Finance, strategy are extremely beneficial for business competition. We as students must be able to apply the frameworks to the idea and present it well.”3
Other useful tips3:
- “Believe in your idea. Spend a lot of time doing iterations on what the idea should be. We worked on many ideas before reaching the final idea.
- Identify the end customer and understand their needs. An idea is useful if there is a market that it can serve.
- It is important to have the financial details and projections of the business idea. Any idea that one has must be able to earn money.
- Consult AIM faculty for feedback. They are rich in knowledge and experience and can provide you with valuable insights.
- Practice a lot on your presentation and timing.
- Get feedback from your classmates and peers.
- Believe that you can win!”3
“AIM should create a committee that is suited to the requirement per competition. And as much as possible, term 1 subjects should already include subjects about strategies because it is really of great help to the participants. AIM should put value on the competitions participated by the AIM students by creating committees in order to ensure competency because this will help build the branding of the school. There’s no doubt about the teaching quality of AIM, only the branding we should developed so that the school will be known world-wide.”6
Last, but definitely not the least: “Don’t undestimate “the power of prayer. From day 1 when we got the confirmation that we would participate in the Regional Finals, we’ve been praying that we do well in the competition. God may not have granted that we win, but to be in the top 6 is already a really big, big blessing. And for that, we are deeply thankful to God and to all the people who made it possible for us.”1
Written by: Kevin Vosotros with excerpts from the works of Aiza Mares Irog-irog, Ashay Gangadhar Nayak, and Katrina Angela Valencia
1Vosotros, Kevin (April 2019). “Changing the World One Start-Up at a Time”. A Reflection Paper. Unpublished.
2Vosotros, Kevin (June 2019). “More than the Numbers”. Essay submitted to Peter Drucker Challenge 2019.
3Nayak, Ashay Gangadhar (April 2019). “Reflection Paper”. A Reflection Paper. Unpublished
4Hult Prize (n.d.). “About”. Retrieved last 25 June 2019 from hultprize.org. URL: http://www.hultprize.org/about
5Valencia, Katrina Angela (April 2019). “Reflection Paper on Hult Regionals – Vietnam”. A Reflection Paper. Unpublished.
6Irog-irog, Aiza Mares (April 2019). “Reflection Paper: Hult Prize Southeast Asia Regional Summit Competition”. A Reflection Paper. Unpublished.