A business contest for young social entrepreneurs.
What comes to your mind when you hear this phrase?
Does it sound serious?
You have no idea what to do if you become a social entrepreneur?
That is exactly what I thought last year.
I thought that business contests, especially social business contests, are something that people with profound knowledge would attend.
Until I actually applied to attend ICU's on-campus business contest called Hultz Prize@ICU.
You must be wondering, “what made her participate in this contest?”
The answer is simple. I wanted to be a female change-maker.
One of my friends, who is a successful female entrepreneur, told me how there are only a few female entrepreneurs in the world.
As a person who believes in the importance of women’s empowerment, I wanted to inspire other women to be more entrepreneurial and challenge themselves. I thought this contest would be an opportunity to show others that gender does not matter when it comes to influencing the community or society that we live in.
The theme of this year was to build food enterprises that solve a social problem related to food.
My teammates and I had no idea where to start, but we decided to brainstorm what we were interested in at a personal level.
After a long discussion, we decided to approach food waste. Our business idea was to provide a health-focused bento subscription service where a customer can purchase bento after getting a subscription or making a reservation. We make bento only after the reservation was made. If you are familiar with economics, imagine a diagram of supply and demand. The equilibrium point where the supply and demand become equal is what we wanted to achieve. As a result, there will be no food waste. Our distribution channel was at the convenience store so that people can have easy access to our product. We decided to hire foreign technical intern trainees in Japan and to guarantee them a good working condition. The reason why we wanted our bento to be health-focused is that we thought we should add our unique added value that stimulates people’s motivation to purchase our product.
Long story short we, unfortunately, could not win the competition but got the second prize.
The preparation period was extremely challenging. It took a very long time, it was literally like taking two steps forward, one step back.
There were mainly three things that we struggled with.
Struggle 1: Lack of market research
It was very difficult to determine the target market and to make a business idea that closely matches their demand. Our team was formed a month before the date of the competition and thus we did not have a lot of time to do preparation. Because of that, we did not have time to do comprehensive market research to prove that our target customers will be interested in our product. We based everything on the existing data on the Internet that was collected for another purpose. Lack of preparation time or market research resulted in the lack of focus on the market’s demand.
Struggle 2: What to do and what not to do?
It was very difficult to balance different marketing elements. For example, when we tried to focus on the quality of the product, the cost became too expensive and vice versa. Determining the business domain and the dos and the don'ts is dependent on what targeted customers want. However, as mentioned above, lack of marketing research resulted in us just imagining what they desire which did not necessarily meet their demand.
At the contest, one of the judges told us that business is not about making a product that is nice to have, but about making money with something crucial to have. We were somewhat missing the important business principle.
Struggle 3: Cost calculation process
The calculation of the cost was time-consuming as none of the team members were mathematical persons nor had they ever experienced actual accounting processes. The unit cost can be calculated only after our business idea becomes solid. We worked on the calculation process until the day before the competition.
What I gained from joining this contest was way more than I expected.
Importance of working as a team
Before joining this contest, I used to contemplate alone when it comes to decision-making. I used to have this mind that I am the only one who should be involved in my decision-making. However, by working as a team, I noticed that I should listen to others more because they notice other things that you were not aware of. Other things that are important but you are missing.
Importance of stepping out of the comfort zone
I was not the kind of person who joins a business contest. I thought I was not intelligent enough to think about society or to change the community. However, that was not the case. I was putting a curse on myself that I was not eligible to take an action.
This experience of stepping out of my comfort zone helped me realize that the best thing to do is to try and reflect, and the worst thing is to do nothing.
As a young female entrepreneur, I learned so much from this experience, both my strengths and weaknesses. Hopefully, I will be back in the competition next year as my grown-up self and win first prize with more confidence.
Lastly, I would like to thank the Hult Prize organizing committee for administering such a wonderful event. I am very grateful to the judges and our mentors as well for giving us valuable feedback and comments that helped our business ideas to grow and broaden.