On 4th November our Varsity Pitch Competition finalists were invited to the Tata reception. They networked with the guests and practiced pitching to an esteemed panel of judges and guests. Here's what Tata had to say about the contestants.
The six NACUE Varsity Pitch finalists that presented at the Tata Reception carried with them an element of youthful creativity and zeal to the event – the business leaders of the future sharing their ideas with the influencers of today. In return for them sharing their ideas, dreams and motivations with us at Tata and our friends and partners, we wanted to offer something back, to demonstrate our appreciation for their courage in taking the stage and also our commitment to fostering the talented innovators blossoming in the UK. Four executives from a variety of Tata companies served on a panel of judges to provide feedback and constructive criticism to the companies as they pitched their bold ideas.
Several themes arose from the questions and commentary offered by our four judges. One of these themes was scale. Ideas start with a spark, and like a spark they can go out quickly without the right fuel. That’s why Tim Morris, Head of Public Affairs for Tata Steel in the UK, asked Ross Kemp, founder of Asap Watercrafts, whether he was concerned that ‘the search and rescue market is relatively small, and the leisure market is based on discretionary spending.’
Another important theme was the consideration of the full breadth of stakeholders. A key stakeholder group for almost every business is their end users, as acknowledged by Yogesh Chauhan, Director of Corporate Sustainability at Tata Consultancy Services, when pointing out to Daniel Crumpton and Richard Ogodeton of CoFlo that people ‘spend a lot of money making their bathrooms look extremely nice and fancy’ when questioning the aesthetic appeal of their water conservation shower attachment.
These end users can take many forms, a point not lost on Siddhartha Butalia, Director of Marketing for the Taj Group in the UK, as he questioned Thomas Tredinnick, founder of Eddy Labs, on whether his smart technology home monitor would be targeted solely at individual homeowners or had the potential to address the institutional market of accommodation providers like Airbnb and hotel chains.
Equally, judges ensured that the accessibility of products to these end-users was of paramount concern. Will Chadwick, Vice President of Tata Interactive Services in the UK, quizzed Jonathan Akass, founder of Dividabill, on whether the disorganised flat-sharers he planned to help would actually take the time to access and register with Dividabill to set up the automatic payments for utilities his business offers.
Judges recognised other stakeholders, namely those in operational functions, as being critical to a company’s success as well. Bradley Poku-Amankwah, with his social enterprise Smart Fuel seeking to inclusively employ disenfranchised women in Ghana to help collect, process and sell used cooking oil as biofuel, faced constructive criticism from Yogesh Chauhan over how his company would source and transport the oils. ‘Are the vehicles you’re using to collect the fuel going to be using fuel as well, making this slightly self-defeating,’ Chauhan challenged. Poku-Amankwah, with a confidence characteristic of the young entrepreneurs, assured that the hurdles of getting his business up and running were all well in sight.
Finally, the judges shared the wisdom of being able to see your idea within the broader context. Ideas can be revolutionary and disruption in the marketplace has been rampant with accelerating breakthroughs in technology. Regardless, an idea must start within a context before it can begin shaping context itself. Both Siddhartha Butalia and Yogesh Chauhan noted this after hearing Harry Huang’s ambitious plans for Wyre, a platform to enable consumer-friendly bitcoin payments. Bitcoin has been a controversial topic in the tech and financial communities, which presents challenges to ‘scaling up’ a business to get buy-in from consumers and other businesses alike. Huang remained steadfast, with the knowledge that, like all of the innovative businesses on display at the Tata Reception, bitcoin has the ability to disrupt the very idea of transactions as we know them, and Wyre might just be the fuel for that spark to catch.
Recognising that potential in all of these bold entrepreneurs, a number of Tata judges have already begun working with both finalists and some of the semi-finalists from NACUE’s Varsity Pitch competition, providing private mentoring and exploring possible corridors for collaboration.