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April 7, 2008

In IDDS, one of the most significant lessons that I took home at the end of the program was Bruce Mau’s Incomplete Manifesto For Change, a work of … genius, stating an entire ethic and philosophy for approaching Design, professional, creative, and personal growth, and really, life itself.

Every now and again, I’ll flash to one of the principles when something in real-life reminds me strikingly of the content. Recently, #26, Don’t enter awards competitions. Just don’t. It’s not good for you.” hit me while Jaertes & I were at one of the same.

We’ve been putting together something of a business of the past few months, it’s something that I’m really excited about, and has the potential to turn into something awesome, soon, if the few pieces that we’re going to need fall (or are forcefully nudged) into place for us. In order to scrape together the few startup funds we want, we entered the Centre for Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology “Entrepreneurship Challenge” – we won $2000 there, and progressed on to regionals where we were eliminated during the preliminaries.

Initially a little choked up, we stuck around to see what everyone else was playing with and who had beat us out. I freely admit, after seeing who took us down, I can hardly blame the judges; our competition was incerdible. However, back to Mr. Mau’s Incomplete Manifesto, point #26.

First off, losing in any way was disheartening.

Second, some of the finalists were, to my <irony> highly experienced </irony> eye, brilliant, but somewhat doomed. The most notable was the CPR Glove or something like that, which gleefully bragged about winning this or that Design Award as part of their shtick. It really was, in all honesty, a brilliant idea. However, I can’t picture this particular tool becoming the multimillion dollar business that they see it becoming; as a startup, they don’t have the momentum to push their product, and potential customers are far more likely to go for a more tried and true training option. Finally, offering it as a potential lifesaving tool in all but a few specific contexts is unrealistic. People are scattered as hell when someone crashes in cardiac arrest, if they’re not together enough to be able to do CPR to begin with, they’re not going to be with it enough to go get the glove, either. Other than a few limited applications, (Hospital crash carts, for instance, ambulances, and possibly large-facility first aid teams.) the glove simply doesn’t have sufficient value to overcome any of the current technologies out there. Offered as a training tool, their main push, this is only valuable to training & refreshing genuine emergency personnel and the like – the anticipated $350 price tag would make equipping any corporate or community first responder training course quite expensive – in a class of 30, say, working in partnership, you’d need 15 gloves, +at least one spare, 16×350=$5,600; with break even/profit points already tight for first aid courses & trainers, this is not a practical expense.

Another example was a presentation that Jaertes loved, but I found melodramatic and shallow. Gents from Guelph who were selling plastics which contains an additive which makes most types of plastic biodegradable in almost any microbial-exposure environment. Brilliant, they’ll change the world. But wait. The additive isn’t theirs, it’s someone else’s, they simply have exclusivity for the GTA, for an unspecified & undefined term, in a admittedly shaky informal contract. Their product and marketing were entirely linked to what the product can do for the earth, not what it can do for their business. It’s a brilliant product, and gives me a lot of hope regarding future plastic waste on our planet, but the business model was beyond fragile.

The design award rewards a brilliant invention while not considering whether it is financially viable; after all, that’s not it’s mandate, it’s simply an assessment of one facet of a product. The progression of the green business also grants a sense of false confidence, they progress forward without fully reconsidering their potential weaknesses. They were caught out and blown away when asked about the risk of being undercut; both contractually (no, we have an arrangement with the man, our mentor, who owns the additive, that wouldn’t happen) and by conventional plastic (the plastic bag industry never changes it’s prices, and with their inflated profit margin and our additive prices, we’re still competitive – there’s no way they’d sacrifice some of their profit cushion to crush an upstart).

Now, however, don’t take this as bitter “we shouldn’t be out” whinging. Even compared to these two competitors; far from the best of the finalists, our presentation was an unmitigated non-contender. We opted to pass on a powerpoint presentation, apparently a must-have in order to hock a product or pitch a business these days. Both of us hung, badly, when confronted by a far larger crowd than we’d been expecting (the dynamics of presenting to 20+ people, surrounding you, are rather different from presenting to 6, in front of you, each require rather different preparation), I stumbled on a key section of the pitch, and Jaertes slipped into a presentation style we’d both tried to cut out because of clumsy “feel,” and then we both got butchered in the questions; “what is your financial model” was asking “how much will you make,” not “how will you make it,” “what are vacancy rates” wanted to know demand, and we assumed that reading the (required submission) business plan had been part of their preparation.

We learned loads about presenting to business groups and picked up a lot of things we need to work on for any future presentations, but as nice as the money would have been, I’m not sure that we’d go back again if given the chance.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Rachel permalink
    April 7, 2008 11:13 pm

    yeah, news for those additive plastic guys… apparently the “plastic” knives and forks we use at red brick are biodegradable, so their idea may not be as novel as they think.

    Two possibilities regarding that; either you’re using their plastics, or you’re using one of the more conditionally biodegradable products than theirs – some are “biodegradable” but only in a industrial composter, or only after exposure to two hours sunlight.

  2. April 8, 2008 12:22 pm


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