On March 21st, 2015, budding blue ocean entrepreneurs came together from all around the state for the first-ever Maryland Blue Ocean Competition, inspired by Blue Ocean Strategyby W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, which focuses on creating uncontested market spaces rather than competing in existing ones. The competition, organized by a committee of enthusiastic high school students, aimed to get high schoolers across the state practically started on creating innovative, rather than me-too, new businesses. Their aim – to foster creativity, entrepreneurship and value innovation. Yes, these budding blue ocean entrepreneurs were in fact all high school students in their teens.
Sixty eight high school students came prepared to pitch their blue ocean business ideas to an impressive panel of judges that included leading entrepreneurs, business people and community leaders.
The competition was spearheaded by Nicholas Benavides, a senior at Centennial High who had organized the Howard County Blue Ocean Competition the previous year. “It’s very cool,” says Paul Brooks, a local business leader who participated as a judge. “This is wildly ambitious for him but he has pulled it off. He is a solid kid and has a great team behind him.”
Stewart Gold, Director of Maryland Centre for Entrepreneurship, who was also judging, believes that the whole event exemplified blue ocean strategy,
Creating this whole competition is, in itself, a model of entrepreneurship.
He continues, “How the students got trained, recruited, funded and how they got sponsors: it is a remarkable job to put it all together.”
The notable line-up of judges and sponsors that were present is a testament to the kind support and encouragement Maryland communities offer to its promising blue ocean entrepreneurs. “I think the younger they get into business, the more they understand how it works, the better for all of us. It’s a win for everybody. So, that’s why not just I support it, but also our organization,” – argues Gold.
If you can start solving new problems in new ways then the opportunity is immense.
Nestor continues, “It is not just about creating businesses, one more pizza store or one more of something, but really to embrace the idea of blue oceans so that as you start thinking about business, you don’t do what everybody else is doing; you don’t solve the same problems that have been solved in the same way. Because then business is brutal, it’s painful and often leads to failure. But if you can start solving new problems in new ways then the opportunity is immense.”
The idea here is that, “if the students can embrace the simple concept, that there are red oceans and there are blue oceans and just to be aware of that as a starting point to look for opportunities where there is no competition. This could potentially and likely change the entire trajectory of the businesses they create.”
One would think that blue ocean strategy and the related tools of the trade may be too complicated for high schoolers to grasp. The judges seem to disagree. “The general analogy of sharks making the ocean red if there is competition out there…is pretty easy to grasp,” says Scott Block, founder of VentureBoard and another of the judges. “The principles and models of blue ocean strategy are clear to use,” says Hugh Norwood, President of Trinity Education Group.
Equally impressive were the business ideas presented by the young contestants. The team from McDonough High School, comprising of John Thomas, Bahram Tavakoli and Jack Ward came in first winning $1000 in prize money for their blue ocean product called LyfeCord. LyfeCord is a protective and personalizable cord for Apple products (such as the iPhone, iPad and MacBooks) that is fortified with a special nylon polyester material to prevent the fraying of Apple charge cords that so often occurs after frequent use. Coming in a variety of fashionable colors and sizes, the cord is MFi-certified for safe use with Apple products. The passionate high school team amazed the judges by having already launched a successful Indigogo campaign to raise funds to support their initial financing, providing samples of the packaged product, and showcasing the already functional online platform for managing its sale and distribution. The young students’ blue ocean business has already started generating revenues.
Second place went to Sandra Sandeep of North County High School for her GelGear blue ocean idea. This idea presented a bold fusion of style and safety utilizing Tyco’s alphaGEL technology in a sleek, slim, personalizable headband to significantly reduce the risk of athletes incurring concussions. In contrast to the usual concussion protection products in the market such as helmets that compromise on appealing design and ease of use, GelGear combined the style and simplicity of Nike’s Dri-Fit, with the concussion protection of the helmets. Sandra won $750 to develop her business further.
Kevin Peters and Cameron Compton of Gilman High School won the third place prize for their ProtoCast blue ocean idea. ProtoCast addresses the limitations of 3-D printing and traditional fabrication techniques for metal parts, and combines their functionality to offer users the ability to accurately fabricate small metal parts at a low cost. Cheaper than machining and investment casting, and more accurate than other types of metal casting, this blue ocean service uses 3D printing to eliminate geometric constraints together with wax melting techniques to prepare custom molds for metal parts at a low cost. One of the judges handed the ProtoCast team a business card to get in touch later for help in getting their process patented.
As Renée Mauborgne, co-author of Blue Ocean Strategy, summed it up after presenting the prizes at the end of the day,
This has been a truly inspiring day. One of the premises of blue ocean strategy is that anyone, anywhere, can be creative, start a new business, or even start a whole new industry. What these students have achieved is fantastic. These students are the blue oceans of the future.
The journey these ambitious and enthusiastic young students have started does not end here. They have even more ambitious plans for the future. Katherine Erdman, a Marriotts Ridge High School student member on the blue ocean committee sees the competition going nationwide next year, “I think what we want to do is work on an exponential growth level. We started out at the county level, now we’re at the state level and our next biggest step is the nation because a country of entrepreneurs is what built America and hopefully it will be our future as well.”
Nicholas hopes that, ‘in the years to come, we will be able to bring this same experience to even more students from around the state and the country.’ His teacher advisor, Mrs. Taylor tells us, “We’ve already been contacted by people in Florida and people in Arkansas asking us to see if the competition will go nationwide.”
If you enjoyed this article, you may also be interested in reading about the Howard County Blue Ocean Competition. Check it out here. Also check out the Maryland Blue Ocean Competition website to learn more.
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