I have now completed the first of five terms at INSEAD. So far it has been exhilarating. In addition to the curriculum, there were so many people to meet and so many events and parties to attend. My days were jammed full of things to do from the moment I woke up to the moment I stumbled into bed late at night. INSEAD is demanding, especially considering that the contents of a two-year MBA program are crammed into one. But this is what I had been craving.
This term has been mostly about getting acquainted with my classmates, coming to grips with life in France, studying for the first time in four years, and enjoying the student lifestyle. It’s also been about exploring my dream job. Many go to business school with entrepreneurial ambitions and attempt to launch a startup at some point after graduation. I’m no exception. While everything I experienced was important, the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp stood out from the rest, making me grateful I enrolled at INSEAD.
I was lucky to be among 34 students who attended the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp weekend, a workshop/competition run by startup guru Paul Kewene-Hite, an INSEAD professor with years of experience. The aim of the bootcamp was to transform our ideas into viable business models and pitch them to a panel of angel investors and venture capital firms. In real-life ventures, entrepreneurs can spend months getting ready to make a pitch. In true INSEAD style we operated at a much faster pace with only 48 hours to prepare. Despite this, many of the ideas at past bootcamps have gone on to become successful businesses.
On a Friday evening after class, we set off for bootcamp. As soon as we got there we launched into our ideas, and each person stood up to share. (We were told not to prepare any business plans beforehand, but to come with ideas and let them blossom.) Then, after some discussion, we formed teams to move our idea forward. Most of the initial proposals sounded feasible, although a few wacky ones came about, including aluminum underwear to protect the male genitalia from cell phone radiation. My teammates—David and Aliyah—and I got together to pursue an idea we had come up with earlier in the week: smart (data gathering) clothing. Noticing a gap in the market, we had a vision. We believed we had an innovative solution (one that doesn’t require customers dressing up like Power Rangers or Tron characters).
POINTERS FROM THE GURU
Guided by Paul in a step-by-step method to develop our ideas, we started with such basics as creating a mission statement, market visualization, and customer acquisition. We moved on to such advanced topics as financial projections, a development timeline, and raising capital. With each step, Paul talked about best practices, mixing in his own real-life experiences. Seeking more feedback, we also presented our work to our peers, and the ideas started evolving into workable concepts. We were able to visualize more and more how each group’s venture was going to work, as well as which issues needed to be addressed.
Passions ran high. Some truly innovative ventures were discussed, many of which had high earning potential and also could change society for the better. By Saturday night everyone was buzzing with excitement for the final pitch on Sunday afternoon. I stayed up until 3 a.m. with David and Aliyah, and we finalized our market research and financial projections.
Not everything went smoothly, and not every idea survived. One group changed its business from a tech venture to salmon farming in Mexico. (Salmon demand is increasing in Mexico, yet there are no native salmon, so they have to be imported. This creates an opportunity for domestic fish farming.)
We also hit roadblocks on our journey. In the wee hours of Sunday morning we discovered that a product similar to ours had already appeared on the market, and the company had established relationships with some of our target customers. Our concept still had several advantages, and we gained courage from this. Customer analysis was good: We identified contacts in our network we could rely on for introductions to customers. And our financial projections and timeline looked realistic. The hard work continued on Sunday as we continued to prepare for the pitch. At that point every team was in a competitive position, and there was no certainty about whose idea was going to win.
V FOR VICTORY
Against some outstanding competition, it was a tough fight to impress the judges, but we pitched well and handled the Q&A competently. However, we didn’t win. The winning proposal was a career counseling service to help Indian students realize their potential. It was delivered emotionally and passionately by V, one of our classmates. V comes from a traditional Indian family who had dictated his career path in information technology for him. He studied the subject and worked for four years before realizing his true passion of teaching. V wanted to help other students and their families discover what they want to do in life and how to achieve it. There are currently no services like this in India, and it could bring enormous benefits. We all believe in V and expect great things from his venture.
The weekend wasn’t all about winning a pitch, though; it was more about realizing our potential. I went into the bootcamp with slight fears about being an entrepreneur—trading a stable income for a high-risk project, working without structure, and potentially being consumed by the 24/7 job. Yet I came out of this weekend with an even greater hunger to pursue a business of my own. While David, Aliyah, and I didn’t win, we found a connection and trust in each other and wouldn’t hesitate to pursue another venture together (O.K., radiation-proof underwear might make me think a bit longer before committing). I guess one of the hardest things about being an entrepreneur is getting over your initial fear of failure, uncertainty, and hard work. From this weekend, however, I got a taste of entrepreneurship, and the nectar was sweet.