Why Young Entrepreneurs Should Enter Competitions They Know They Won't Win | Opinion

Over spring break in March 2019, I had the opportunity to participate in the Hult Prize Regional competition round in San Francisco, California. The Hult Prize is an annual collegiate competition that challenges students to propose solutions for some of the world's toughest problems. In 2018, Boston University, where I attend college, participated for the first time, with seven student teams submitting solutions to the 2018-19 Hult Prize Challenge: “Develop an idea to provide meaningful work for 10,000 young people in the next decade.”

My team and I entered the competition with our idea, CareerPeak. Our pitch was:

Liberal arts students do not know their value in the job market and recruiters do not have an efficient channel to recruit these students. CareerPeek is a career discovery platform that leverages machine learning and human connection to facilitate career discovery for liberal arts students. With CareerPeek students who have no idea what they want to do with their lives can get pointed in the right direction toward opportunities that match their unique skills and interests.

After competing in Boston University's preliminary round last December, I arrived in San Francisco convinced we had the best idea in the competition. A few days later, I left San Francisco, mesmerized by how impressive everyone else's ideas were. In the end, we didn't win the grand prize of a spot in a London summer accelerator, with a chance of $1 million in funding from the United Nations. Instead, I left knowing at least three reasons why you should attend a competition you probably won't win.

1. It humbles you. As an entrepreneur, it is easy to get carried away with the potential of your idea. Going to a competition where other teams have stronger, more validated ideas than you can help give you more perspective about where your idea really stands. It reminds me of the famous quote, “If you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room.” At the Hult Prize in San Francisco, we were definitely in the right room. Get out there and learn from fellow entrepreneurs.

2. Less pressure, more time to take in the experience. It seems counterintuitive that you could be facing more talented teams and feel less pressure. However, there is a level of competition where it is statistically unlikely for you to win that you are almost forced to take a step back and enjoy the experience. The lack of pressure enabled us to seize the learning opportunity that comes with listening intently to other team's pitches. Noticing others strengths and weaknesses during the morning pitch session helped us iron out some of the kinks in our pitch before we presented in the afternoon. Surprisingly, we thought the best part of the entire Hult Prize experience was getting to the know the talented entrepreneurs who were part of the team that beat us in the first round!

3. Feedback, feedback, feedback! The judges are awesome. Even if they don't think you have the best idea, their feedback is still incredibly important to your business. For example, one of the judges explained that the biggest risk with having company advisors talk to liberal arts students is not getting enough advisors but rather getting good advisors. This advice led us to start developing a machine learning algorithm to ensure that students are matched with high-quality advisors.

Gabriel Rogoff is a graduating senior from Boston University with a degree in Economics and Mathematics. He is the co-founder of CareerPeak, and the president and founder of the Boston University Undergraduate Career Development Club.