- Tech & Gadgets
- BRW. lounge
Published 24 October 2011 16:46, Updated 02 November 2011 06:45
Last week I had the privilege of sitting on a judging panel for a student business pitching competition. It was organised by some young guns from the business school at the University of Sydney who were keen to foster an entrepreneurial spirit among their classmates and it left me wondering about the impact of Generation Y being pigeonholed as the online generation.
Project Edge was a semester-long program whereby small teams of students created a framework for a business. After a couple of months brainstorming and fine-tuning their great big idea, the four teams had 10 minutes to pitch it and wait for the barrage or questions and (hopefully) constructive criticism.
I went in assuming that given the pitchers were from the Generation Y mould I would hear four ideas on the forefront of technology, smartphone and internet-centric. I was only half right.
Of the four businesses, two were positioned squarely to take advantage of technology. The first was a smartphone application, Paper Trail, designed to help small to medium enterprises keep track of employee expenses. The second was dream____ (pronounced dream space) an ambitious social network, part LinkedIn, part role-playing game as personal life coach. Both felt very Gen-Y ... but like I said, I was only half right.
The first pitch of the day came from Hartfield Connections, three passionate students, one of whom was majoring in English. Their idea was to produce a series of picture books aimed at primary school children that told easy to understand versions of classic literature.
Their prototype was a picture book telling Jane Austen’s Emma. The problem to be solved, as the team saw it, was that by the time students reach high school they are expected to read classical literature but they have had no experience of the intricate plots and morals-based character arcs. By introducing these ideas to children in a picture book format in primary school, students wouldn’t have so many problems with classical texts when they began studying them in high school.
To be honest, I was quite surprised when I heard the first pitch. This is the iPhone and Tumblr generation, suggesting we go back to reading physical picture books. In terms of choosing a problem to be solved, Hartfield Connections have really thought outside the box. Considering the result-obsessed, helicopter parenting of many children these days, I’m sure there’s a market out there for their product but my feedback was to think broader in terms of how to deliver their product. I imagined a multi-platform strategy, centred around a website with interactive colouring in, games that told the classic stories and short video-blogs. I think children learning through a picture book is a strong idea but as one tool from a box of many.
It wasn’t the only “old-school” idea of the day. The team that actually ended up winning the Project Edge “Pitch Fest” – unanimously from five judges I might add – was Natalis and the idea was: direct mail. I know, it’s hardly a revolutionary concept but their execution was quite innovative and involved sending personalised mail from local SMEs to their customers. The team had technology in their sights, using skillful graphic design and remote printing operations to keep their costs down. But it was the delight at receiving a personalised card in the snail mail that they based their business on.
As I left for the day, I considered my surprise at hearing two traditional business ideas from the YouTube generation. Maybe it’s backlash at being pigeonholed as the iPhone-wielding, Facebook-obsessed generation that left two teams of student entrepreneurs pondering the benefits of picture books and snail mail.