Bite-sized business pitch

Overseas-education | Crystal Wu 3 Nov 2020

Students from the Chinese International School beat their counterparts from around the region in the sixth Asian edition of Columbia Business School's Venture for All Model Entrepreneur Competition.

Team Ambrosiia - made up of Year 11 students Justin Chan, Conrad Cheng, Huang Ningjing, Evelyn Kwan and Alicia Tang - triumphed over more than 200 competing teams from all over Asia (including 15 from their own school) with their innovative business idea of a healthy snack subscription service.

"Winning this competition gave us confidence that we can be successful if we put in 100 percent effort and 120 percent preparation, despite any challenges like the uncertainty and changes brought by the pandemic," said Kwan.

At the heart of their pitch is a customizable healthy snack box with its contents chosen using artificial intelligence, customers' personal preferences and data obtained from health gadgets.

The competition was hosted by Columbia Business School's global initiative Venture for All, which aims to "encourage young talents to stand out from pure imagination and speak out innovative ideas with business feasibility."

Out of the 200 business proposals, 23 were picked to enter the final round, including Ambrosiia's.

The students were then provided with comments from judges and took online courses by the initiative. After handing in two more videos and a business proposal, the teams were then invited to do a 90-second elevator pitch and a question-and-answer session over a judging panel, held online due to Covid-19.

The videos were also put through public voting, which also affected the scores.

"They were excellent. They got the top score in each and every part of the matrix," said Paul Shih, a representative for the initiative.

"The team demonstrated strong passion, great teamwork and the business plan was exciting. The demand for healthy snacks is on trend, and the need is reinforced during the pandemic," he added. "And we were impressed by how well they prepared for the question-and-answer session."

The winning team is due to compete in the global edition of the competition at Columbia University in New York, though the event has been put on hold due to the pandemic.

"It was quite a challenge to get everyone focused and pull the team together with the strict social distancing rules in early August," said two-time competitor and team member Alicia Tang.

"The process was quite different from preparing for the 10-minute stage presentations last year. Although the virtual environment made the overall process more challenging, the distance made our team more collaborative and united."

This was the second year running that students from CIS won the top prize.

"I am exceptionally proud of our students. Even in these times of pandemic, it is clear that their resilience, passion and creativity are stronger than ever," said the school's head, Sean Lynch. "Participating in start-up competitions like this one, where students experience real-world challenges, setbacks and rewards, can be much more meaningful than learning in classrooms."

The school also established a partnership with the Columbia Business School and formed the CIS x Columbia Entrepreneur Initiative, which allowed CIS students to participate in a six-day camp during the summer. "We aim to provide a world class program to inspire and educate our students on new venture creation, and also to promote entrepreneur culture at CIS," Lynch added.

In fact, the team's business pitch originated from one of these entrepreneurial programs - the Hangzhou Hawks. The annual project-based program held in Hangzhou provides basic training in business models and economics to Hong Kong students who board and study there for a year during Year 10.

It was there that the healthy snack box idea was born, then pitched by one member of the team.

"Being immersed in a culture of entrepreneurial thinking and doing is very important. We strongly believe that entrepreneurial spirit, seeing opportunities through problems, risk-taking, problem-solving, resourcefulness and resilience are essential skills applicable in all careers in the future," said Lynch.

The stress on entrepreneurship is shared by parents of the school, who also help extend students' experience and exposure in this area.

CIS parent and Columbia alumni Anita Ma brought a group of students to attend the Asia Technology Entrepreneurship Conference last November.

"What we have experienced this year has further confirmed my belief that having an entrepreneurial mindset is crucial for our next generation," she said.

"It is amazing to see their growth throughout the journey."

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