By Darren Adams
“Get outside yourself… Our students gain the clarity of focus they need to build transformational organizations that can thrive and seize new market opportunities in today’s fast-paced global economy.”
From my first day at Kellogg when Dean Blount shared this speech with our class, I decided to take this challenge on. Dean Blount’s words resonate with me because they are a personal call to action. I knew that if I was going to meet Dean Blount’s challenge, I was going to need to journey outside of comfort zone.
I decided early in my EMBA experience I wanted to get clarity of focus on how to create and build a great startup. The Kellogg Education Technology Incubator (KETI) competition seemed like a great opportunity to do this. KETI is an annual challenge that allows entrepreneurial-minded students to partner with like-minded students to brainstorm, pitch, and if selected, produce a piece of technology that enhances the Kellogg community.
What I found most compelling about the KETI competition was that contestants had the opportunity to potentially participate in the full entrepreneurial lifecycle: team formation, ideation, pitch, funding, product development and product implementation. I would get to do it all, and more importantly, I could do it all quickly. My team would get to go through this journey with the support of world-class faculty and a structured environment, which added to the overall appeal of the competition. In short, I was able to learn from premier faculty, build relationships with my team and the KETI administration, all while developing my own business.
As we moved through the KETI competition, it became clear that our team, Team Opti-Ed, had the right idea, mix of talent and experience and the drive that could ultimately lead to something special. Our team, composed of three EMBA students and one Part-Time MBA student, had a wide array of professional experience. From supply chain management for a large integrated communications company to technical software sales for a large software organization, the diversity of our experience was the secret sauce to our success. We came together unceremoniously via the WhatsUp App, LinkedIn and Google spreadsheets; nevertheless, we managed to pull together and advance past the initial ideation screening and pitch competition to be among one of four winning teams selected for funding for this year’s competition.
A big takeaway for me was if it feels uncomfortable, it is probably a good thing. Many of the activities we participated in are meant to help draw out and develop skills you will need as an entrepreneur, including the pain-point kick-off, competing against the Full-Time and Part-Time students, developing a pitch deck, presenting in front of a competition committee and a room full of people. As our team was going through the process I knew we were on the right track because we kept pushing through the uncomfortable moments, achieving better clarity and focus. We were ultimately able to convey that to the KETI selection team.
I am pleased to have had the opportunity to ideate a product, build a team, develop a pitch deck and ultimately, be the lead presenter during the pitch competition — all of this only three weeks into the competition. Most importantly, I am pleased that we were among the winning teams selected to move forward in the competition.
Last week, we had our first meeting with Dean Ziegler and she outlined what we can expect from her: bi-weekly guidance meetings as well as access to faculty mentors to help shape our product. Still to come are the funding, product development, product launch and everything else in-between and after. We have not determined if we will commercialize our product, but it should be mentioned KETI is supportive of this option as well.
Darren Adams is the Sr. Manager of Corporate Transportation for Spectrum Brands. He has over eight years of progressive operations and operations finance experience.