When I was asked to be a semi-finals judge for our Entrepreneurs’ Organization’s Global Student Entrepreneur Award (EO GSEA) competition, I was excited to be a part of it. I’d certainly heard how impressive these students were, how creative, how inspirational. But really I had no idea.
EO’s competition draws more than 1000 entries from college students from around the world. As a judge, I was part of a team of judges who picked a top winner from seven competitors who had won their local competitions in Costa Rica, Russia, Sweden, or even down the road in Chicago. Their stories were amazing:
- The student from Indonesia who processed a local plant to create oils used in the perfume and pharmaceutical industries. He was so successful he was able to triple the daily wages of his employees – to $3 a day. Oh, he also withstood a local middleman who placed a gun against his temple and told him to close his business. And we think WE have problems with our supply chains!
- A team of young women from Colombia who created a nail salon business that grew rapidly from a few tables in the back of a friend’s bar to multiple locations.
- A Nigerian woman who created an inexpensive soap product and novel distribution system as part of her determination to find the diarrhea that kills 25% of the people in her country because of lack of soap.
- The young woman from India (she says she’s India’s next billion dollar company and I would never be one to bet against her!) who created a novel, physiological method for training elementary school childrens’ brains to learn in a different way. The method proved so successful that she already has more than 100 franchises of her system in cities around the world.
- These young entrepreneurs were impressive even with rather mundane ideas. The least innovative business we saw in our judging panel was a Chicago college student who rented inflatables and furniture for kids parties and corporate events. Despite a rather competitive market, the company grew so rapidly that both his parents quit their full time jobs – to come work for him!
None of these entrepreneurs had graduated yet, and they weren’t all business or technology majors. They came from every discipline (a farm-to-table matchmaking website for chefs was run by a political science major!), and they brought the passion, energy and creativity that we typically hear can only be found in Silicon Valley, Harvard or Stanford. I wish I could spend more than a day listening to these business concepts – they were all winners for me.