Finalists of InnovateChina 2018

Written by Noel Lavarias.

One shouldn’t be saying this, but I honestly still don’t know how and why my group got in the finals of InnovateChina 2018 organized by China Europe International Business School (CEIBS). With the number of contests that our group submitted entries to, this contest might be the least that we expected would be successful. Yet looking back at the experience, luck might had played a factor for us to get in, but I’m truly proud to say that we didn’t waste the opportunity given to us.

The story of our experience started one January evening in the discussion hall of Graduate Hall two. The group started out literally without any idea to submit to the contest. Like any other group trying to create a new business idea, we started by saying  logical and safe ideas which we eventually would just shut down due to feasibility or the idea already exist. What started out as a brain storming of conservative ideas, we eventually started thinking of crazy ideas such as “tinder” like app but for sports. I believe this no holds bar brain storming led our group to think of an app powered by Artificial Intelligence for Chinese kids to learn English. This app would eventually be our entry to the contest.

Creating an idea was just the beginning as we had to create a 10-slides PowerPoint presentation as our entry to the contest. With the deadline of our requirements for classes also fell at the same week as the contest’s deadline, we did a last minute deck creation. As we were about to submit our entry, we faced technical problems in uploading our deck which by this time it was already 11:58pm with the deadline at 12mn. Within two minutes, we at least tried uploading six times using two different laptops. Fortunately, by 11:59pm and 55 seconds (not the exact seconds but it felt like it was) one of our tries got in. However, just to be sure our entry was uploaded, we sent an email to the organizers beyond the deadline containing our deck. Actually after submitting our deck, we thought that there was very little chance for our group to get in.

However, lo and behold, one February evening we received an email from the organizers that our entry was chosen for the finals.  So much excitement rushed through each member’s system when we received the news. We recognized that it was a gift to be chosen which was why for the next three weeks we really dedicated our time to improve our business plan. We consulted various professors in NTU which included Dr. Douglas Rolph and Professor Yonggang Wen. At the end, what started out as just an app, we managed to modify our business plan into an AI English Learning Buddy for kids named Språk.

We arrived Shanghai on the 23rd of March for a dry-run and to get a chance to see the venue before the contest the next day. During the dry-run, a draw-lot was held for the order of presentations. Our group drew number six which would be the last group to present. This also meant that we won’t get a chance to see other groups present as the rule of the competition prohibited us.

Come the contest day, the event was nothing but spectacular. Not only did the organizers created the event for the groups presenting, but they made it as an innovation conference with talks and product showcases. Of course, the main event for the day were the presentations. According to the organizers, the attendees for the event reached almost 800 which was quite a feat.

On behalf of my group, the experience of being able to pitch a business idea and plan in front of Chinese Business Figures something we were really proud of. After our presentation, people came to us inquiring about our business, and told us that they think we were one of the top groups of the contest. However, we weren’t able to bag any prize, but we didn’t have any regrets because we know that we did our best. The group didn’t feel that we had a bad business plan, but just like any other business plan competitions, others just had ideas which the judges liked more.

As I said earlier, it was luck that got my group tickets to the finals of InnovateChina 2018. However, that luck was more of a gift because we got to experience such an amazing competition. With China growing economically, the contest was a good avenue for aspiring business leaders like us to get to feel how it is to pitch in front of Chinese business figures. We got a chance to experience how they acquire about business plans and what values they are looking for. The prize of the contest was just a bonus to be honest as the real award was the experience itself.