As an alumna of Babson College’s MBA program and regular mentor for entrepreneurial students at the university’s Blank Center, I had the opportunity last week to participate again as a judge for the Undergraduate Semifinalist competition in the Babson Entrepreneurial Thought & Action® (B.E.T.A) Challenge.
Babson Students bring a Variety of New Solutions for Edtech, Robotics, Travel, Cleantech, and Consumer Markets
My fellow judges and myself were charged with choosing three companies to move on to the final round. The semifinalists comprised the following six unbelievable impressive student start-up student-run businesses, each offering a unique unmet need to their respective markets:
- Arist is an edtech provider allowing companies to offer text-based courses. Think of the Cliff Notes version of training at work, sent to your phone in small snippits to help with knowledge retention, reinforcement, and improved learning.
- Copperforge provides high-performance, easy-to-use electronics and mechanical components for K-12 robotics competitions.
- Flight Squad leverages top tech to get the best price for customers to travel.
- Goba Tea offers consumers the first healthy boba (a bubble tea) to go.
- Know Waste is an industrial waste management venture that provides innovative tech-based upcycling solutions to sustainably-minded businesses.
- TicketRev allows consumers to buy resale tickets to a game by choosing where they would like to sit and how much they would like to pay; tickets go to the highest bidder.
Online Challenge Proves Successful in Showcasing Startups
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak and imperative need for social distancing, Babson held its first online virtual competition via WebEx, where each semifinalist pitched their business plan for three minutes, followed up by five minutes of Q&A for the judges. Having judged many of these competitions over the years, I was so impressed seeing the hard work that these undergraduate student founders put into their companies and how they could pivot and adapt their pitches to an online format while still captivating their audience.
Previously, we interviewed founders as we perused the pavilion at the small company booth. This time we each asked questions in front of 280 virtual attendees, and founders answered questions on the spot. I was impressed by their poise and knowledge.
Our judging resulted in the following companies that will move on to the final round on April 16. I’d like to share some of my observations:
- Start and end your pitch with simple, compelling messages - The presentations that stood out from the pack were the companies that communicated their value clearly and succinctly as they would if there were telling someone at a cocktail party.
- Communicate action and milestones - Most companies were able to demonstrate milestones and action plans that would move their business forward – a testament to the advisers and Babson faculty guiding them along the way.
- Keep face-to-face connections alive with video – I found that the ability to see each founder speak in person on live video was important in my overall experience as a judge. As many companies foster a culture of connection using online apps through this crisis, the importance of speaking face-to-face can easily be overlooked or undervalued. When speaking face-to-face, essential clues such as body language, hand gestures, and facial expressions indicate how a conversation is progressing, and conversations flow more naturally.
- Agility is crucial to future business success. The B.E.T.A Challenge re-established the importance of business adaptability and versatility. These start-ups were affected by COVID-19 and quickly adapted with new milestones, strategies, and associated actions to deal with the crisis. In times of crisis, a company must know how to pivot and adapt.