Another day, another competition. Or was it? We were at the Taj Samudra attending a competition. But the funny thing was, it wasn’t exactly your everyday competition, or a competition for that matter. This was MIT Global Startup Labs. This programme, initiated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a global incubator that teaches university students from developing countries leading-edge web and mobile technology and entrepreneurship. Over the past 7 weeks, each team that got selected for the programme would have started their own business.
Today was the day that they would present what they have done so far to a panel of judges and the audience. We were once again reminded that this was not a competition, but rather, a gathering for the teams to present their business ideas and to get feedback from the judges. In addition, members of the audience interested in the ideas presented here could talk to the teams later on and act as angel investors.
As with any event, this one started with a welcome speech. Pallavi Mishra, Head of Programme, MIT Global Startup Labs SL was on stage to talk about the programme. She spoke about the journey of an entrepreneur and the ventures that they take in order to reach their goals and to never give up on their dreams.
Next up was a familiar face; Dr. Sanjeeva Weerawarna, Founder and CEO of WSO2. He spoke briefly about startups, drawing real life experiences from his journey with WSO2. He encourages the participants to take the advice given from the panel of judges “with a pinch of salt” and that if you really believe in something, you can do it. He also draws an example of Starbucks coffee where at its proposal, it was initially rejected for its feasibility is now the largest coffee startup in the world.
With the speeches done, it was time to get down to business; the presentations. Each team is given a total of 15 minutes for their session of which 7 minutes is for their presentation and the remaining 8 minutes for Q&A. Failing to adhere to these timings would result in the session ending for the team, regardless of the presentation.
The first team spoke about their idea, A Unified Payment Gateway. They identified a scenario where a startup or business would have the potential to do great things but would lack the financial resources so setting up elements such as payment gateways would incur high initial costs for them. The solution? Taking either MasterCard or VISA, the team would provide the payment gateway for the end user. Think of it as a tri-party agreement between the vendor, bank and Unified Payment Gateway.
There would be no initial cost, rather the team would charge a total of 5% per transaction as payment for the maintenance of the service. The team also plan to have hackathons as a method for marketing and they would also handle social media. They also plan to take part in digital marketing.
In response to the project, the judges question the team on as to why a simple payment gateway would not suffice without all the bells and whistles. The team back up their answers with facts and figures and explain it to the judges. Well done indeed.
Team D Squared was up next to present their idea PrimeHR. An online CV Processing system that would take all credentials of a candidate and present them into a widely accepted CV layout so that comparison of candidates was made easier.
Team ARtron was up next on stage. Their idea; an interactive smartphone application that uses augmented reality. Called Magic Book, the application makes use of your smartphone’s camera. Using the camera, the app is able to map certain elements in a book (for example characters, animals and scenery in the book) and then convert that into a model that is manipulable. It can even display animations, games, activities to improve analytical skills and videos. They can also add Augmented Reality to existing books so no reprinting of books required.
Next up was a one man show. The product: Handpiq. The problem identified: we cannot make the best decisions quickly on our purchases using traditional search engines. The solution? To provide a search engine that is personalized, relevant and contextual, structured and direct. The business model would be a premium account, targeted advertising and services accessible via the URL www.handpiq.com. The final product would be a specialist location based discovery service for consumers to enable interactive real time chat based information on products and services from partner vendors.
TimeSpace Labs was the next team up, with their product “Viral”. A location based social network that you can use to track events and people. Think of it as a platform or a social network that joins all networks where you can add, comment and like event based posts. They plan to have 5 million users within 5 years and also plan to use digital marketing and to go global from San Francisco and Silicon Valley.
Siplo Micro Tuturing was the next product aimed at students who are waiting to sit for the A/L exam. The product would be a tutoring platform by students who have already passed the A/L exam and are awaiting university entrance. According to their business model, both student and tutor charges for the first year would be free with a point system added for 2nd year and 3rd year as a session based payment and charge system. Think of it as Uber for students.
PayMedia – An All-In-One payment Kiosk. That pretty much summed up what the project was about. According to the team, they managed to port almost 90% of all branch operations carried out in a bank, to a machine resulting in a drop on cost of almost 70%. If you’re not clear as to what exactly it is, this is basically a machine to handle all tasks related to banking. This includes account management to cheques and cash deposit, cash withdrawals and everything in between. But that’s not all. They’ve also implemented this system at Sampath Bank, LOLC and even the CEB so you can even pay your electricity bills and manage all those details without standing in queue for hours. As for the setting up, there would be a one-time installation fee and 10% maintenance fee. They plan to advertise and grow online in terms of word of mouth.
With that the presentations come to a close.
Jeevan Gnanam, CEO of Orion CIty was on stage next to give the overall feedback of the teams that took part in the event. General comments were that he overall presentation skills were to be commended. Their styles and skills were good. They were good at identifying problems. But even though identified, some of the feedback was that they failed to identify an opportunity. They need to have a better understanding of the competition was needed too. They also need a very clear execution plan.
Entrepreneurship is a continuous project.
Joseph Yang, Country Manager, MIT GSL was on stage to deliver the vote of thanks. He thanks the sponsors (Brandix and WSO2), and the guest lecturers who had attended the 7 week training programmes of the teams to talk about topics such as IP, equity, digital marketing, and to share their own personal views on the topic as well.
A very emotional award ceremony followed with runny noses and rather wet tear ducts.
We too got a tad caught up in the emotions and shared in their joy and tears (and food too).
Like we always did, we packed up, and parted ways. Another day, another event indeed.