Shark attack our American business adventure
Almost a year ago our group of five friends came together to form a team to compete in the Biotechnology YES competition. Now we have just returned from the richest business plan competition in the world. We have come such along way over the past twelve months: from discussing our potential product choices in our student flats to the grilling of the Shark Tank round in the Rice Business Plan Competition in Houston, Texas.
Our team is from Cambridge and Imperial College, we are all PhD students who met during our undergraduate studies in the Genetic Department at Cambridge. For us, Biotechnology YES was a way of investigating an alternative career path and getting together as a group of friends, little did we know that we would all develop the entrepreneurship bug. We are actively seeking biotech ventures to get on board with and our experiences with Biotechnology Yes and the Rice Business Plan competition have equipped us for this challenge.
Our company, Gluten Replacement Technology (GRT) had 'developed' a non-allergenic gluten to address the growing celiac community. We have taken this concept through the late night preparation at the regional competition to the impressive surroundings of Number One Whitehall and a panel of ten judges. We really did live and breathe the business; we can't wait to see what it is like with a real product! Winning the Biotechnology YES competition was really the icing on the cake as just taking part in the competition allows you to learn and develop so many personal and business skills. But for us the adventure was only half way through.
The team has been lucky enough to attend the BIA Gala Dinner in the Natural History Museum and the Innovator of the Year Awards in Docklands. These opportunities are so important as it is not about 'name dropping' but the invaluable advice people give you as you try to break into entrepreneurship. It seems that the most valuable commodity for starting a business is experience and you can start to tap into this by meeting some ambitious and experienced scientists and businessmen.
Our next step on this journey was to the world's richest business plan competition at Rice University, Houston, Texas. The competition judged companies with real products and offered real investments. The competitors were a mixture of PhD and MBA students. The first thing that struck us was the American enthusiasm, it is so much more overt than in the UK. By simply observing the teams we were able to see how a presentation should be altered for a US audience. But we were not there just to observe. Although we couldn't compete for prize money we were still taking part in the elevator pitch and shark tank round.
Sarah, our operations manager, took on the elevator pitch, a one-minute 'advert' to potential investors. It took place in a front of the whole competition, over 500 people in a large, intimidating auditorium. There were over 100 judges and people could even vote using an iPhone app! We truly knew we were in the company of entrepreneurs.
We were able to watch almost all the streams of the competition. They ranged from IT products such as image capture software to translate foreign road signs to social venture to build toilets in rural Kenya. The breadth of products was vast and the business plans varied. For us it was exciting to be able to understand all the terminology (it would have been alien a year ago) and to analyse the feasibility of the plan and the attractiveness of the investment being offered. We even managed to pick the competition winner from the practice rounds!
After the first rounds the competition split into semi-finals and a shark tank round. We could take part in the latter, a presentation of 20 minutes during which the judges (all 10 of them!) could interrupt at any point. It is meant to simulate a meeting with a VC (Venture Capitalist, yes we speak the lingo!). We were first up, an 8.15am presentation, here we go how hard can it be?
The presentation is fine but keeping the judges on track is hard. They contradict each other, discuss amongst themselves and you have to pull them back on track. What a challenge, but a great experience. They were all happy to give feedback on the business plan and our presentation skills; the sharks weren't too scary in the end.
Throughout the competition we could meet the other team members and we rooted for our favourite companies through to the awards ceremony. It was a grand affair in the large ballroom of the Intercontinental Hotel. We were hosted by the British Consulate and sat with another British team that hoped to be receiving a prize. Over $1million in prize money was handed out from various sources including NASA. The grand prizes saw companies walking away close to $500 000 in real investment. We met likeminded students who were a little further along the entrepreneurship path but the experience has left us with no doubt we can do it too.
The Rice Business Plan competition was a wonderful end to our Biotechnology YES adventure and the start of our entrepreneurship journey. Thank you to everyone who has helped us along the way.