Learning from the Enactus collegiate entrepreneurs

Once again I have had the honor of being one of the judges in the Enactus collegiate entrepreneurship competition. Back in 2015, the national finals were held here in town, so I got to participate in person. Of course, this year it was completely a virtual affair.

I have been involved in another competition: the Microsoft Imagine Cup. Back in 2012, I flew to Sydney to be one of the judges for their final competition, which I wrote about here. It was a blast, and I got to meet some very smart students from around the world. Not to mention that I got to climb to the top of the Harbor Bridge too.

The Enactus competition now goes on to their own World Cup held later this year. The teams come from colleges both well-known and ones that you have never heard of, and the team sizes vary from just a few students to dozens. This year the US national champion was the team from the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater, which has had success in earlier years. They had an interesting project to help eye patients in India obtain inexpensive glasses, and I didn’t give them top marks because due to the pandemic the project only really got in gear last month.

There are two things the judges evaluate: first is a short video that the team puts together, which contains both their pitch and an introduction to the team members. These are professional quality and include the requisite drone fly-by of the campus with a background of dramatic music.

The second element is the written report that reviews the financials and explains how the project or projects meet the four major tenets of the competition:

  • Entrepreneurial leadership, where the team identifies a need and shows how they can take personal responsibility and manage risk and change
  • Innovation and improvement
  • Apply business principles such as a workable plan and model.
  • Have a measurable and sustainable positive impact, both socially and economically

The Whitewater students’ business plan didn’t match up with their video, which is why I didn’t give them the highest marks. Apparently, I was in the minority.

The two teams that I preferred were from North Central College located in the Chicago suburbs and Southern Adventist University (SAU) near Chattanooga. Also in the final four was the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign, which I have actually been to and have known about as one of the major computer science powerhouses.

North Central’s team (which you can see here) ran a web storefront for Guatemala coffee and chocolate sales as one of their projects.  What I liked about this project was how they built upon last year’s efforts and what they did to pivot to deal with the pandemic. They had to work hard to replace in-person sales with some innovative alternatives, such as building their own campus-based store and selling their products to farmers’ markets, using Facetime walk-throughs and Zoom demos of how their stuff was sourced and made, making donations to non-profits and creating private labeled products. They were able to significantly boost their sales and not only cover the additional costs of these efforts but also increase their profits. The storefront will ship product across the US or you can come pick things up at the campus store.

SAU’s team had a series of projects, but their centerpiece was another web storefront selling soap made in Zambia. This store only ships to nine locations there. They now employ 360 people and made some US$5,000 in revenues last year. They had other projects such as local STEM instruction for women and creating a marketing toolkit for non-profits as well.

It is great that Enactus was able to continue their competition during a very difficult year, to be sure, and under some very stressful circumstances as universities went to remote learning and other circumstances. And if you have a moment to watch some of the video presentations on the Enactus site link (warning: it is a miserable website, ironically), you too will be inspired and have some hope for the youth of today.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.