Reflections of an up-start

Hunger, value and greed.

The most important things I learned as an Up-Start. And it’s paid off.

As part of a team of three graduating engineering students from UofT, we’re very happy to end our educational career by winning the 2009 Up-Start business pitch competition hosted by MaRS. The competition allowed a perfect chance for us to mix technology with business, and a validation of all the materials we have learned over the past seven months in the CIBC Presents Entrepreneurship 101 Lecture Series.

Among the 26 weekly lectures, the most helpful were “Building a Business Model” and “Building a Pitch”. In “Building a Business Model”, professor Agrawal explained about getting to know the real business value of great technologies, and how to find a market and valuation for a technology to best realize its commercial potential. This advice helped us get our directions clear while preparing the business plan and conveying our ideas to the audience during the Up-Start competition pitch.

In “Building a Pitch”, speaker Mike Polonksy (who’s dedicated most of his career to this topic) made it clear why graphical, convincing presentations are so important. Reflecting on our more technical based academic background, we’re convinced it’s a skill all technology entrepreneurs should master. Three words from that presentation, (the aforementioned “Hunger, value, and greed”), are probably the most important points in the whole lecture series.

While these were our favorites, every Entrepreneurship 101 lecture taught us one more valuable aspect of business development and what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur. Thanks to all the speakers who presented their experiences on sharing on building a business model, handling patents, managing teams and communicating effectively. It was all brought to bear on our presentation slides.

UiRemote is lucky that the competition prize is a perfect amount for our small start-up financial requirements, which really motivated us to go for the win. With the award, we are much closer to getting our first batch of products manufactured. Compared to UiRemote, there were many great projects and ideas in this year’s Up-Start competition,. According to one of the judges, our strong point was our ability to convey the small investment requirement, short return period and large identifiable market, in a few slides, without going into too much technical details.

Also, nothing is perfect the first time. Although the Up-Start was not our first competition, it was the first one we won. Our product and business plan were assessed and criticized by the judges and audiences from other competitions. With help from our MaRS advisor Don Duval and other MaRS resources, we’ve modified almost everything in our business plan and presentation slides again and again to make it more realistic, convincing and attractive. Even so, we wished our full-time studies would have allowed us more time to work on the competition.

As a final thought for entrepreneurs, there are a few characteristics we believe that are common to all.

  1. The will to act. Everyone in the lectures and the competition took one step ahead of the others to start the dream, and everyone is a winner.
  2. Persistence. Everyone in the ENT101 class, including us, is still under the test of commitment. We can all come up with great ideas. We had ours while brainstorming for a final year design project, but that’s just half of the journey. If At First You Don’t Succeed, Celebrate! Change the Business Model, and find another VC!

Thanks from all of us at Team UiRemote – the universal infrared remote accessory for SmartPhones