Reflection on an MBET practicum: BufferBox
By: Sara Barakat, MBET 2012
In early October 2011, four classmates (Cami, Ignacio, Pablo, and Ehsan) and I joined a startup called BufferBox for our practicum project as students in the Master of Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology (MBET) program. Bufferbox is a technology startup that allows online shoppers to pick up their purchases anytime, at their convenience, from automated, self-serve parcel pick-up stations. The basic objective of the practicum was to help BufferBox develop and build their business and execution strategy.
At the time BufferBox was still at a very early stage and in transition. The three co-founders had just graduated from the University of Waterloo with majors in Mechatronics Engineering. BufferBox was originally a pilot project that co-founders Aditya Bali, Jay Shah, and Mike McCauley had developed in the fourth year of their engineering degrees. Since the concept of the kiosk was still very fresh, the co-founders required a certain business & technology skill set in order to help them develop and scale their business. Since the MBET program is designed to provide its graduates with the necessary tools and skills to develop and grow startups, the relationship between our team and BufferBox was complimentary.
The basic role for our team was to execute the commercialization strategy of the product for which our tasks varied from market research to strategic planning. The knowledge and insights we gained from our MBET courses strongly influenced our performance as a team. Moreover, the passion, enthusiasm, and entrepreneurial spirit of the BufferBox team were a key inspiration to our team and motivated us to perform our tasks effectively.
As a practicum team, we wanted to experience BufferBox’s entrepreneurial life. We went the extra mile and got involved in BufferBox’s marketing and advertising events on campus. Our team composition added extra value to these promotional events. Since we came from varying ethnic backgrounds, as brand ambassadors were able to communicate that the product is for everyone. We were also part of the company’s market validation strategy through representation at different business plan competitions. Consequently, not only did we help BufferBox advertise its services, we had the opportunity to gain hands-on experience on startup development and execution of the commercialization strategy.
My favourite aspect of the practicum was the people! From one perspective, we had the BufferBox co-founders who encouraged all our efforts and mentored us to perform certain activities better. They provided us with vital insight into how to tackle difficult situations from routine tasks to pitch competitions. On the other hand, we had our professors and mentors as well who were a constant source of guidance, from strategic thinking to marketing, accounting, finance, entrepreneurial application, and management consulting. Our professors offered exemplary mentoring, helping us achieve our project milestones, both personal and professional. Finally, each and every individual on the team had mutual respect and understanding for each other. Our skill sets were complimentary since we came from different academic and professional backgrounds. The rich combination of our educational backgrounds – mechanical engineering, marketing, communications, finance, accounting and strategic skills – helped our team succeed in being the best practicum in the program! As it is rightly said by Aristotle, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
Working with BufferBox was one of the most riveting and inspiring experiences I had during the course of my MBET program. I feel honoured to have worked with such an ambitious group of individuals and am grateful for the opportunity provided to me by both the MBET program and BufferBox. Their recent acquisition by Google is testament to their hard work and vision.