What it Takes to Compete


Advice from Professor George Abe

  • The business proposition must have a level of concreteness. Does a product exist? Are there customers, patents, advisors, research activity, prototypes or any 3rd party validation of the product? Propositions that are proposals or ideas, can work but the judges need to feel that implementation is straightforward. Hence, a magazine story can work. Be sure to describe the status of the business during your presentation. That deflects a lot of questioning and gives the judges a sense of reality.
  • Evidence of Primary Research. Have you talked with any strangers about the market, competition, technological feasibility? Did you go beyond Google? What effort was put into the plan?
  • Degree of difficulty. The business proposition must exhibit a challenge which utilizes some MBA training. Hence, businesses which are just built on hustle won't likely get top marks, even if the plan is well presented. A degree of difficulty can be derived from product complexity (high tech) or market risk. Judges generally like a big concept with an element of risk. Therefore, pet stores, medical practices, and consulting won't do particularly well. Starbucks may not either. That's the nature of plan competitions.
  • Packaging. Once having a concrete, relatively challenging story, the next question is how well is the presentation packaged. This means having good overheads and a fluid, confident delivery. You will be evaluated on poise and your ability to answer questions. Backup slides, financials (especially cash flow), competitive analysis, visuals are important

How does an idea become validated? Are you at least feasible?

Be able to discuss risk. I segment risks into 5 categories, which are product (or technology), market, competitive, financial and management.

  • Product/Technology Risk. Does the product exist? Does it work? Discuss it scale? How is it made? Is there patent protection or is it needed? Do users have switching costs to use your product?
  • Market Risk. What's the TAM? Build your TAM from bottom up. That means knowing the number of potential customers and price. How does your product solve the market problem? Is the market growing or is your story about taking market share? What is your market entry strategy?
  • Competitive Risk. Have a competitive matrix. "No competition" is not the answer. Discuss competitors along 1 or 2 axes of competition. Big/small? Foreign/domestic? Whatever is relevant. Be prepared to discuss competitive factors beyond product and price, such as strategy or financial strength.
  • Financial Risk. What are your cash requirements? How much runway do you have? Present sensitivity analyses, at least in backup slides.
  • Management Risk. Most projects will be student operated, so you won't need to say much about this. However, if there are luminaries, inventors, advisors, strategic partners or investors involved with the story, then you should say so, provided you have their permission. Get credibility.