Friday, January 08, 2016

Startup Competitions

Late last year, I received and accepted an invitation from ICT Dumaguete to be a mentor at the first Dumaguete Startup Weekend. It was a most welcome privilege. Apart from the opportunity to go back to Dumaguete, it was also the chance to work with the city's technology hopefuls.

Last year was actually my third year of working with Startup Weekend, not as organizer but as shepherd of student participants. In 2013, we sent our students to attend the second Davao Startup Weekend, and we took the first and third slots. In 2014, we hosted the third Startup Weekend at Ateneo de Davao. The week before Dumaguete, I was at the fourth Startup Weekend to look into our students who were participating.

On the whole, Ateneo students do well in pitching competitions. Our university academic programs put a lot of emphasis on presentation and our students are generally confident and personable.

It helped, too, how we reoriented our technopreneurship course. Technopreneurship is a 5-unit course for our Information Technology and Information Systems students. Previously, the course emphasized writing business plans -- pages and pages of projections and feasibility studies, mostly made up. Two years ago, we retooled it to look more at startups as a model.

Perhaps the apex of our achievement with the startup route was with the Philippine Startup Challenge in 2014. PSC was a nationwide DOST-sponsored competition. Of 51 entries from all over the country, they shortlisted 20. Of that 20, eight came from Davao; and of that eight, six came from Ateneo. Of the final five winners, three came our university. To cap it off, one of our student teams made it all the way to the final stages of the Ideaspace startup competition.

While all this should be cause for celebration, I do find myself asking if this is enough. Pitching is one thing, actually building a thriving company is another. From all the competitions our students have joined, the furthest anyone has gone is the team who landed a spot in Ideaspace.

It's necessary to temper expectations when it comes to competitions like Startup Weekend. The best way to approach them, I've learned, is as networking events, where people can get to know other other people, and to get a feel for how the ecosystem works. There's some value with some techniques that they use, such as the business model canvas, customer validation, and the lean startup concept.

But to launch viable businesses? There are many other factors that need to come together before that can happen.