Friday, February 17, 2006

Lessons from ONIA 2005-2006

Rational Technology for Feb 19, 2006

With the presentation finals and awarding ceremonies held at Foundation University on February 17, Oriental Negros Innovation Awards 2005-2006 drew to a close. From an initial 28 entries in October last year, the pool of qualifying teams in the business plan competition narrowed down to the five.

The competing business plans were: a mosquito trap, an automated rice seedbed, charcoal briquettes, a prepaid Internet purchase card, and a sensor system with SMS-based notification.

In front of a panel of distinguished judges from the Asian Institute of Management and Teletech, as well as a broad audience from Dumaguete, the contenders made their last push for the prize. Each team had a member present a 90-second elevator pitch; thereafter, the business plan presentation and an intense round of question-and-answer with the judges.

Adjuged best business plan for this year was the automated rice seedbed, designed by students from the Asian College of Science and Technology. The seedbed would maintain the correct level of irrigation for a seedbed thereby maximizing grain yield.

Despite having been part of the Innovation Awards since its inception, this is actually the first year that I was able to sit in during the presentation finals. I was hopeful, but not quite sure what I was going to see. Would the contestants falter? Would they carry through with flying colors? Or something else?

The presentations are really an exercise in salesmanship. Essentially, the team is presenting their case for an investor to put money into their project. Therefore, the presentation has to be very convincing, with a lot of preparation and supporting material. A good business idea with a bad presentation will most likely fail to secure the funding; and a bad business plan will be...well, let's just say it'll be found out for what it is.

So how did this year's batch of innovators fare? Some did very well, the end result of clear thinking and good preparation. Some did not do so well. The judges certainly did not treat the contestants with kid gloves, and they asked all the probing questions which tested the validity of the contestants' statements and assumptions. I am happy to report that many of the contestants did not take it lying down and fought back with all the strength and smarts that they could muster.

Business plan discussion goes on, even after the contest.

Nevertheless, I think the learning experience was valuable for everybody, and I hope this year's contestants will have another go at it next year, bearing with them the lessons from this event. On my part, I did note some points which may be worthwhile considering for the next ONIA:

1) The main deficiency I've seen in the business plans was in the aspect of marketing. Marketing -- figuring out the best way to sell the product -- seems to be an afterthought and is thus the Achilles' heel during the presentation. Understandable enough since most of the participants were engineers and inventors. Now I wish the students taking up marketing would team up with the inventors next year so as to gain for themselves the valuable experience of rolling out a new product.

2) Related to the first point, the contestants also seem to have glossed over talking to customers to understand their requirements. As such, the product specifications were built on guesstimate assumptions. This lack clearly and consistently showed up in the judges' pointed questioning. Talking to potential customers, understanding what they want, is key to coming up with the right product.

3) The need to look outside of the confines of Dumaguete. I am not just talking about the target market for the products, but on the overall thinking in the formulation of the products and the business plans. Too often, the business plans start with Dumaguete assumptions, work with a Dumaguete deployment plan, and think in the metrics of Dumaguete. As a result, while the idea may be exciting, the vision and correspondingly the execution often becomes small and limited.

Now, some may object that this is a regional business plan competition. Indeed it is, but only in terms of its origin and base. One must still dream grand dreams.

These lessons apply not only to the contestants but also to us who organize and run the competition. Clearly something to remember for future Innovation Awards.

And really, I do hope there is another round of the Innovation Awards. The ideas were great, not your run-of-the-mill in-the-box thinking. Here you had people thinking about real problems, and finding innovative ways with which to solve them. Most of all, we've planted the seeds of what we can be.

Here's to the Oriental Negros Innovation Awards 2006-2007!


  1. Do the winners actually get some capital from the VC's?

  2. They get the P50,000 to start the business. From there, the province will help them get additional funding, if needed. Just like Boni Comandante's project.