I had the privilege of being asked to serve as a judge for this year's Entrepreneurs' Organization's (EO) Global Student Entrepreneur Awards.
Two thousand undergraduate students from 38 countries competed for a $20,000 cash prize and access to the EO's global network of 10,000+ business owners worldwide, narrowed down to six finalists. In addition to being full-time students, they pursued their entrepreneurial ventures full-time as well, traveling around the world to refine their pitches and raise funding for their products and services.
I was blown away by the quality and creativity of these students. Here's what they taught me about business.
1. Stand on the shoulders of giants, and demonstrate results early
Steinar Henskes, CEO of Bird Control Group from the Netherlands, was the $20,000 grand prize winner and Global Student Entrepreneur of the Year.
He started the group in 2012 to help keep birds at a safe distance from commercial activities using animal-safe lasers. During his pitch, he provided a list of brand-name companies who are interested in purchasing his products, and he noted that the company already operates in 52 countries around the globe.
Steiner did not invent the laser. He adapted it to a common problem in an innovative way.
2. Show you're making a difference -- not just making money
Steiner's products are recognized by the World Wildlife Fund for innovation, effectiveness and animal friendliness. The first runner-up, Scott Munguía, CEO of BioFase, was biochemical engineer at ITESM Campus Monterrey in Mexico when he discovered and patented the process to turn discarded avocado seeds into bioplastics. The graduate school winner, Zach Wolff, co-founder and CEO of Exigence Technologies Inc. in Canada commercializes antimicrobial technologies to prevent the spread of infectious diseases and the increasing resistance to antibiotics.
3. Seek sponsors and evangelists from the get-go
First runner-up Alex MacLean, CEO of East Coast Lifestyle, started his clothing brand in 2013 with the goal of representing the East Coast lifestyle.
We're talking T-shirts, not rocket science. How did he quickly succeed? By unashamedly getting anyone and everyone get noticed wearing his clothing. When the Sons of Anarchy TV show came to Nova Scotia for a video shoot, MacLean was able to get Kim Coates, who plays the character Tig Trager, to wear a T-shirt, and sign more shirts for fans.
To date, 60 NHL players, celebrities and stores from Nova Scotia to Florida are now carrying and wearing the East Coast Lifestyle brand.
The lessons from these young entrepreneurs are to think boldly and act bravely. I can't wait for next year's competition.