Problem: You like to keep fit, try a little yin yoga occasionally but your busy work schedule and lifestyle mean you move around, stay all over the place and spend heaps on multiple gym memberships.
Solution: Interactive, a network of independent gyms that charges one membership fee, allowing operators to attract members outside their area, and members to work, or chill, out wherever they are.
That simple solution was judged the best out of the entrepreneurial ideas generated by our full-time students in their Innovation Bootcamp. The students form syndicate groups, brainstorm and develop their best business-disrupting ideas in a few days before pitching them to a panel of entrepreneurs – á la the Dragons’ Den and Shark Tank television shows.
While a little gentler than their reality-TV counterparts, this year’s three judges were no pushovers.
Anthony Podesta, the 2012 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year, knew what he was looking for. He took his salary-packaging services start-up, McMillan Shakespeare, to a listed company worth almost $1 billion in just 20 years.
“The ideas that impressed me the most were those that had the strongest business case and were robust enough to stand up to external scrutiny. And Syndicate Six’s gym membership idea best matched those criteria.”
The other judges agreed. They were Charles Day, a PhD and former CEO of Melbourne Ventures, who runs the University of Melbourne’s Carlton Connect innovation and entrepreneurship precinct, and Jack Rejtman, a Wharton MBA, digital-strategy consultant and co-founder of the highly influential The Conversation media group.
“I didn’t plan to become an entrepreneur”
For Heather Watson, her team’s win was a bit of a surprise.
“I never wanted to be an entrepreneur when I came into the MBA program. But all of a sudden, with all this positive press, it’s probably what I should do.”
Heather, who came up with the initial idea, said its development was a team effort.
“We all came up with problems in everyday life and tried to make them easier. My problem was paying $250 a month on all these different gym memberships, as were all my room-mates. In our house, we were spending almost a $1000 a month. It’s a common problem, and we thought, ‘OK, there’s got to be a better way.’”
“Even after all the presentations and the judges had provided their comments, we were approached by people in the room, who were saying, ‘You know, you could apply your idea to hotels, including hotels without gyms that could link to nearby gyms, and other services, like golf courses. So, it could be applied to a lot of lifestyle, health and wellness services,” said David Angdi, a fellow syndicate member.
Innovate or die
For Innovation Bootcamp facilitator Associate Professor Kwanghui Lim, the real value of the exercise is not so much to create entrepreneurs but give our MBA students experience in identifying and developing viable new ways of thinking.
“Organisations don’t just need employees with MBA skills, but MBA graduates who have the skills and experience to introduce and implement new business models and ways of doing things. That’s why we introduced the Innovation Bootcamp to our full-time MBA.
“That really matters in a country like Australia, but it applies everywhere where companies are facing a rapidly changing market, competing globally with online and overseas competitors and dealing with more connected consumers.
“Companies just can’t compete the same old way. Everyone needs to innovate and change. They can’t afford to sit still, relax and be comfortable.”
Skills developed on the Bootcamp have led to some interesting careers for recent alumni. Global taxi industry disrupter Uber has nabbed two alumni – their Beijing-based China Communications Leader, Xue Huang; and Tim Ebeling, its Melbourne-based Operations & Logistics Manager, who has also founded 3G Engineering.