Who knew that just outside of the city of Dallas in suburban Richardson major innovation is happening inside the walls of the University of Texas at Dallas? Frankly, I did not realize this university had made such a name for itself in the innovation, entrepreneurship, and tech space. UTD is ranked #19 in the country for its MS in Innovation and Entrepreneurship program…nice.
At first glance, the UT Dallas Big Idea Competition seemed like any other school event – auditorium lights cue and a moderator takes the stage to introduce the judges and finalists. But I quickly realized that I was no longer sitting in just some school function. I sat in awe and thought to myself that I seriously have got to step up my game. These finalists are legit doing the thing.
Previously called the Business Idea Competition, students from all disciplines, both graduate and undergraduate, compete for $40,000 in cash and scholarship prizes. Two rounds of judging take place resulting in six finalists that got an opportunity on November 16th to pitch their “big ideas” to a very esteemed panel of judges, including serial entrepreneur and venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki.
Some of the “Big Ideas” that stood out:
- Neuro Rehab VR is an app designed for stroke victims that utilizes various games to challenge the brain in order to facilitate brain functionality recovery post-stroke. Pricing options were presented for clinics, private physicians, and home-based treatment ($50/month), making the app widely accessible by anyone.
- Enhanced Robotics created an assistance device for those who have mobility difficulties, primarily issues with bending over and picking things up. This device slips onto your leg and quite honestly makes you look like a (not nearly as cool) version of Iron Man. Is it fashionable? No. But the founders claim that people with mobility issues often suffer from depression due to their lack of independence – clearly a little more important than fashion. They also talked about this technology moving into the manual labor work space preventing injuries for those who lift and carry heavy objects by hand.
- Alta Air designed a drone that spans cities to collect data about air pollution and relays this information to the government so that they can enforce harsher regulations in order to protect the inhabitants of that area. Their tagline is “We believe in what you breathe in”, downright clever and memorable. Oh and these guys started this in high school…in case this wasn’t already impressive enough.
Now don’t go thinking you’re a loser quite yet. These students have help. They are backed by medical professionals, highly regarded influencers, and mentors that you could only dream of.
First place was awarded to Neuro Rehab VR for obvious reasons in my opinion. Strokes are a major health issue across the country and the brain is quite the mystery for medical professionals. This idea was the most “we have the problem solved” pitch of them all.
After the winners were announced, up walked Guy Kawasaki from the judges table – a super approachable guy with a cheeky smile. You would never know that this guy was buddy-buddy with Steve Jobs. He shortened his usual hour and a half presentation to a short and sweet “10 Ways to Tap into the Art of Innovation” keynote. Here are the takeaways:
- Don’t Ask Customers
They have zero clue what they want, so it’s like the blind leading the blind. Few innovative ideas come from your consumers. Apple products prove this point perfectly.
2. Jump to the Next Curve
Don’t be the last one to the party. Innovation is not about perfecting what is already out there. If you sense a trend is coming, move to it and don’t wait for others to do so.
3. Make an MVVVP
MVVVP = Minimum Viable Valuable Validating Product. Anyone can create something viable, Guy says, but valuable and validating are more difficult. True that.
4. Make Design Count
Disregard the whole “don’t judge a book by its cover” cliché. The way that apps, products, etc. look and feel does matter.
5. Polarize People
Shock value is key. Innovation is about changing direction and making people consider something new.
6. Ignore Naysayers
The most obvious step, but also the most difficult. The most dangerous naysayers are the wealthy, accomplished, etc., people that tell you that your idea sucks. Unless they are psychic (highly unlikely) it’s better to try and see what comes of your idea.
7. Change Your Mind
It’s ok to be wrong, so just admit it. It’s never too late to change direction if a choice you made falls flat.
8. Niche Yourself
Don’t be afraid to target a unique group of people and make them fall in love with your idea.
9. Let 100 Flowers Blossom
If people pay you for your idea, regardless if they are in your “target market”, it’s all good. Even if random people find an unconventional use for your idea, money is money.
10. Churn, Baby, Churn
Can’t stop won’t stop. Keep doing the thing and making the magic happen. No idea is fresh forever.
Guy Kawasaki is the real deal. The man was part of the inspiring story of Macintosh and Apple. He has written numerous best-selling books and influences wherever he goes. I’m glad to see that UTD made the investment in securing Guy for this event since it’s no secret that accelerating start-up businesses in Dallas/Fort Worth is no small feat. He instilled in the audience that no matter the challenges, you must try to make your dreams come true.
“If you can believe it, you can see it” – Guy Kawasaki