Yesterday I attended my first IdeaBounce. I’m new to WashU (I started working in Olin’s Marketing & Communications department Jan. 4) and the idea of students giving a two-minute business pitch to a room full of strangers seemed intriguing. And, as someone who successfully avoided most forms of public speech through college, it also seemed terrifying.
Olin has a great reputation for turning out successful entrepreneurs—and it isn’t just limited to the business school. WashU has nurtured entrepreneurs from the medical school, the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, and especially Olin and the engineering school. I wanted to watch the beginning of this process.
However, IdeaBounce was not what I expected. Here’s my quick take on my first IdeaBounce experience—and what surprised me most:
1. I incorrectly assumed that only business and engineering undergrads participated in IdeaBounce. Reality is, WashU students from all tracks are looking to launch businesses, and they aren’t all undergrads. The participants ranged from freshmen to those seeking MBAs, executive MBAs, other graduate students, and local entrepreneurs. I think the last point—that IdeaBounce is open to anyone—is particularly important. St. Louis entrepreneurs attend IdeaBounce to polish their ideas, but also to recruit help from WashU students. And, their presence provides a great opportunity for Olin students to make connections and gain experience from those who may be further along in the startup process—that is a win-win.
2. I was most surprised by how far along in the process many of the presenters were. I pictured IdeaBounce as only a way to present brand new business ideas to an audience who could help polish them. However, several presenters had already launched startups and were looking for help getting to the next stage—greater distribution. This included a company that produces pizza-shaped horse treats and a startup creating a special surgical suture (they have a provisional patent and have already tested it on pigs). IdeaBounce, I learned, is more of a way for undergrads, medical students, MBAs, and community business owners (among many others) to connect, share advice, build relationships, and find new resources.
3. I heard additional pitches that are truly cross-disciplinary. In addition to the pizza-shaped horse treats, other ideas included a monthly subscription box that features tools to help managers improve the quality of their meetings, a lifestyle web-magazine focused on living like a Parisian, a specialized camera to identify cancer cells during surgery, and a food delivery app, among others. These ventures were looking for marketers, experts in materials science, full stack developers, and people from other disciplines like art and journalism.
I was surprised at the level of confidence (or how well they faked it) and poise the presenters displayed—at least two of whom were freshmen(!!) seeking to create thermally adaptive insulation for jackets. I was also pleased to see a supportive atmosphere. In fact, the judges don’t rate presenters based on what their idea is, but rather their passion and clarity. If you’re a budding entrepreneur—student or otherwise—it’s definitely worth your while to check out the next IdeaBounce. I’ll see you there!