Yesterday I attended the finalist presentations for the EIEF competition at the University of Ottawa.  I got to say I was impressed – at the ideas and the students that were already running their own start ups.  It was my first time attending the event, or any of the similar competitions such as Carleton’s Tech Venture Challenge (TVC) and Wes Nicol, which is a shame.  And of the many entrepreneurly inclined engineers who I studied and graduated with, I don’t know any who have participated in these competitions.  What a waste of an opportunity.  I don’t want to be one of those that preaches, “do as I say, not as I do” so to rectify that, I’m determined to enter in the above mentioned competitions next year while I’m still a student.  And I’m also throwing down the gauntlet to all you who proclaim you want to start your own company.  Here’s why:

Engineers are typically all about the product.   We love our product.  It’s our baby. We’ve invested so much into making it “the best”.   Now we’re all bright students, we all logicaly know that having the best product doesn’t necessarily mean you make money.  We know it, but we forget it when writing business plans, and particulary when we’re developing our products.   We’ve all heard of first to market, tiers of distribution, manufacturing costs, etc.  but these pieces only really click when you try to apply them to YOUR product and YOUR business.  These competitions force you to look beyond the product and see the bigger picture.   All those annoying but necessary little pieces that differentiate between a successful and unsuccessful business venture must be thought out.   

Do your costs accommodate the tiers of distribution while maintaining a suitable MSRP for the consumer?  Why not use a license based business model?  Why manufacture the hardware when you can make more money being a software company?  Where are the numbers coming from – the business numbers, not the quality, testing, R&D numbers? How well have you looked at the competition?  How are you going to protect your idea/technology?  How do you intend to get your foot in the door of such a crowded market?  How much money do you need to start up?  What exactly will you be using the funding for?  These are just a few of the tough questions that you’ll be accountable for, in the competition and when you’re actively looking for start up money.

The best part is that they don’t just throw you to the wolves.  The competitions offer mentorship and partnerships through the universities, the business community and OCRI to help you answer the questions and fill in the missing pieces. 

You’ll get a lot of constructive criticism in the process.  If you can handle it, it’s definitely worthwhile.  And of course of the thousands of dollars in cash prizes never hurt a start up.  Here’s to next year 🙂


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