We look at how some of the school’s MBA students turned a force majeure into a force for good with the INSEAD Covid-19 Innovation Competition.
In early April, the COVID-19 pandemic had turned the INSEAD MBA experience completely on its head. Yet amidst this, and the pandemic’s global social and economic fallout, a group of us across the Singapore and Fontainebleau campuses decided to say ‘no’ to being bystanders, and ‘yes’ to doing what we could to make a positive difference together.
With the help of the school, the Rudolf and Valeria Maag INSEAD Centre for Entrepreneurship, and the Hoffmann Global Institute for Business and Society, we decided to harness our classmates’ power and enthusiasm to create new business opportunities, while helping resolve the crisis the world was facing due to the pandemic. We figured the best way to do this was through the INSEAD Covid-19 Innovation Competition, and open it to all INSEAD full-time MBA students. The competition was exceptional on many fronts.
First of all, the situation is unprecedented. The world is facing its most serious economic health crisis in a century. Many industries and social norms have been shattered, some permanently, and most economic models are yet to grasp the extent of the unfolding transformation. It was heartening to see 120 MBA participants with 50 innovative ideas with clear societal intent. The competition was a platform for the next generation of entrepreneurs who understood the power of using business to create economic and financial value. They also illustrated how entrepreneurship can be a key ingredient for businesses to be "a force for good".
Secondly, the competition was fully virtual. Student teams had to get to know each other and work together, without ever meeting in person. The results are beyond what any of us could have imagined and bode well for the resilience of human interactions and creativity. Each of the teams who took part have demonstrated exceptional courage, leadership and ability to navigate ambiguity and risks.
Thirdly, students from the MBA’20D, MBA’20J and even from the MBA’21J (before even setting foot on campus!) cohorts presented innovative and inspiring venture ideas.
INSEAD mobilized an incredible amount of resources – Entrepreneurs-In-Residences, faculty, staffs, technical support - to help bring this student-led initiative to life. The global INSEAD community, alumni, corporate partners, has joined forces to reaffirm – once again - INSEAD’s unshakable commitment to transform global business and society. It demonstrates the extraordinary vitality of the community nurtured by the Business School for the World.
The final pitch session held on 22 May was a big draw in itself. More than 80+ participants dialled in throughout the 6-hour marathon event during which sixteen teams pitched in front of distinguished jury members:
· Mr Andre Hoffmann is the Vice Chairman of Roche Holding, Switzerland and serves on the board of the fully owned subsidiary Genentech Inc. in California (USA). Mr Hoffmann is the patron of the Hoffmann Global Institute for business and society, a sponsor for this event. He is also an INSEAD alumni (MBA’90D).
· Mr Mika Salmi, is a serial entrepreneur, a managing partner at Lakestar, and co-founder and Chairman of INSEAD San Francisco Hub. Mr Salmi is also a member of INSEAD Advisory Council, and an INSEAD alumni (MBA’92D)
· Professor Philip Anderson is the INSEAD Alumni Fund Chaired Professor of Entrepreneurship Academic Director, Rudolf and Valeria Maag INSEAD Centre for Entrepreneurship
· Dr Matthias Meyer, co-founder and managing director of 27pilots, a venture builder based in Munich. Before 27pilots Dr Meyer founded BMW Startup Garage.
· Mr Rob Sewell, Chief Digital & Transformation Officer of Maxis, a Malaysian leading telecommunication company.
Many inspiring projects emerged from this competition, and in particular, two teams were recognized:
· All About Space, a platform for employees to find a solo-working space, received the Best Business Venture Award.
· Farm Fresh, a platform connecting farmers with customers in Ghana to avoid supply chain disruption by COVID-19, received the award for the Best Business Venture with the Strongest Social Impact.
“Farm Fresh impressed us with their innovative yet practical solution to improve food supply and sustainable farming in Ghana”, said Professor Anderson. Speaking about the other winner, All About Space, he mentioned that, “giving flexibility to both employees and employers while offering hotel and office owners new ways to utilize their assets” is a key value proposition.
Sonia Adda, a Farm Fresh team member, described that by streamlining the supply chain process, and “through a combination of partnerships with farm input suppliers and better logistics and distribution,” they were able to raise the profit margins for farmers.
Reflecting on their work, Michael Holman from Farm Fresh mentioned, "When the Farm Fresh team was researching how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting different industries, we realised that food security was threatened in many lower income countries.”
Knowing about market dynamics that already put the livelihoods of thousands of tomato farmers in Ghana at risk, team Farm Fresh analysed these compounded threats, and applied their local knowledge to come up with an Agritech business model that benefits farmers as well as customers.
“We are extremely grateful to this competition as it gave us the opportunity to work on a solution that’s of highest relevance to the lives of many people, that are left vulnerable by the crisis and to constantly refine our model with the support of the many fantastic mentors the competition provided,” added Michael.
The two winning teams will receive financial and mentorship support to develop and implement their ideas.
Category: Best Business Venture with the Strongest Social Impact
FarmFresh is all about connecting farmers with customers in Ghana to avoid supply chains getting disrupted by COVID-19. Customers benefit from high quality, cheap, and safely delivered vegetables whereas farmers can sell for higher prices and thus can keep their source of livelihood. These benefits will be achieved by economies of scale, streamlined logistics, and the introduction of technology.
Category: Best Business Venture
Winners: All About Space
All About Space offers a membership for your employees to find a solo-working space away from the office, away from home, and away from the crowds – a safe and quiet space to be productive. We are here to find the most convenient hotel or working space near you.
Vincent Tordo (France, MBA'20D) Rita Chlela (Lebanon, MBA'20D) Charles Cochin de Billy (France/USA, MBA'20D), Alessandro Di Marzio (Italy, MBA’20D), Chris Hartung (Germany/Spain, MBA'20D), Jessica Shoss (USA, MBA'20D), Ana Spoor-Enache (France, MBA'20D), Edward Tsim (Hong Kong/UK, MBA'20D), Miguel Vera-Cruz (Australia/Philippines, MBA'20D), Echo Zhan (China, Art Centre School of Design – Pasadena)