Entrepreneurs and the Science Fair

My younger sister, Kelly, is a member of her high-school’s Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA). Earlier in the school year, she and all other members of the YEA were tasked with developing a business plan for an original idea which they created. At the end of the allotted 6 month period, the students would present their businesses to a panel of investors in hopes of being awarded money to pursue their ideas.

Kelly’s business idea was a fashion blog highlighting good deals on stylish clothing in the Rochester area with the intent to show young people, mainly, that the expensive looks they see in the magazines are affordable. Roc The Look, as it’s named, has a great following for being so new. Local businesses have dropped “twitter bombs” and nationally recognized clothing companies have given “props” to them as well. My sister and everyone she’s worked with is elated with the success of her pet project and its potential. Kelly and the other YEA members presented their ideas on Tuesday.

Kelly didn’t win top prize (but she did get some cash). As an older brother, my first inclination was that “the contest obviously was rigged”. A second thought: “Okay, well those other kids must have cheated”. Finally, I realized the truth. Kelly, in my honest and impartial opinion, had the best idea for a company. She had a targeted demographic; she was building a network; she had outside interest in her product; and she had (and still has) a real willingness to pursue the idea after the 6-month development period. These attributes were all lacking from the other students’ proposals. Why did she lose?

The answer for me can best be explained by my own elementary school Science Fair days. I won the 4th, 5th, and 6th grade science fairs – that’s three…count ’em THREE. But I never could take home “top” prize. My winning projects were cool: I made my own traffic light,  my own electronic game, and I simulated the physics of a bed of nails using a balloon and golf balls (shout out to my brother who “assisted” me on this one) . The projects were cool, but so are fireworks displays.

What the judges were interested in was the physics of a firework: What’s the force behind an explosion? What makes the colors? What’s the reasoning behind the sound? The point I’m trying to make is that anyone can set off a firework…anyone can have a great idea. But being able to explain that idea is where the real value lies.

Had Kelly really dug into the value of her business, rather than why the idea was so novel, she would have without a doubt won the top prize. As a Kogod MBA Grad Student, my seventeen year old sister’s experience has really opened my eyes to this all important fact. If you have a good idea, you need to explain its value, not just how it works.

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

– Thomas A. Edison

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