We acknowledge that we live and work on the traditional territory of the Neutral, Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee peoples. The University of Waterloo is situated on the Haldimand Tract, the land promised to the Six Nations that includes six miles on each side of the Grand River.
The International Business Model Competition (IBMC) is a unique student startup competition focused on the inputs, not the outputs, of the entrepreneurial process.
First, more than 5,000 venture ideas are entered into various business model competitions worldwide. Forty of them make it into the quarterfinals, this year hosted at Microsoft in Redmond, Washington, to compete against lean startups from the globe. This year, one of those quarterfinalists was Grizzly, a venture idea developed by two Master of Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology (MBET) students, Vincent Cui and myself, Alexandru Gogan.
The general perception of Canadians is that they are very humble and conservative in presenting. Together with seven other Canadian startups, we proved that although we may be humble, that doesn't stop us from being good presenters as well.
Learning the art of storytelling
Before the competition started, the “Lean Startup Thought Leader Conference” took place. I couldn’t imagine a better and more energizing start to the day than James Whittaker's talk, “Art of Story Telling."
His four main insights were:
1. Search for stories.
Whenever you’re struggling with a new presentation, look out for the stories around it. If you dig deep enough, you’ll find many great examples that make your presentation more compelling and memorable.
2. Reposition your audience's view of the world.
Through the way you frame and tell your story, you have the ability to change the view each one of us has of the world. Use this power to be convincing and show people a different side than they would expect.
3. Enjoy the preparation.
Every one of us, especially the students among us, knows the problem. The slide-deck is finished just in time for the actual presentation. Dry run? Practice? Not really. A good—no, a truly AMAZING—presentation requires preparation and practise. Enjoy the discovery process of the content you want to deliver, the stories you want to tell, and the way you present it.
4. Don’t focus on details, focus on the concept.
All you have in your head are the tiny little gritty details. Especially being a tech person, it's easy to get lost and excited in the things that most people don’t care about. Focus on the big picture and the concept rather than the details.
James left us with a little homework: create two stories, one about yourself and one about your venture. I leave it up to you to do YOUR homework too. I also recommend checking out one of his talks on Vimeo, in which he presents a slightly different version of what we were honoured to experience.
Pitch practice into the night
Between keynote sessions, the final preparations for the pitches began. Each competing team had the opportunity to do a full pitch and get advice from two different advisors and mentors who were also judging the next day. Though we were well prepared with a timed pitch and polished slides, we realized there was still a lot of work to do.
The mentors were able to identify the pitfalls and gaps in our business model and market strategy, nailing us with questions. We knew the problem was big; our solution, however, was not as impactful as it could be.
Once back at the hotel, we spent the rest of the day, and sacrificed much-needed sleep, to refine our pitch, tell a story, and practice, practice, practice.
We showed up the next day excited to present our new pitch and ready to compete. We were able to deliver a clear message, and our responses to questions were met with nodding heads from the judges.
Despite our endeavours we were not able to advance into the semi-finals, which left us with a prize money of $2,000 USD. However, over the course of the conference we had become friends with many people from all over the world, and now had the chance to fully concentrate on watching and observing the other teams' pitches.
It was great to see what challenges people are facing all over the world and realize that we all have one thing in common: to use the limited resources we have to make a difference on our planet, by being entrepreneurs.
Alexandru Gogan is a full stack-developer who loves technology, travelling, and photography. He completed his undergraduate degree in Information Management Systems in Germany, as well as a postgraduate degree in Advanced Computing in Scotland. After working as a consultant and developer for four years, Alexandru joined the MBET program to transfer his skills and bring innovation to large organizations.