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AIM for Innovation: How Three Students Made Plane Rides and Speed Dates in a Business School Happen

Posted 2014-08-28
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For three MBA students at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM), their demanding coursework did not keep them from playing a crucial role in bringing Geeks on a Plane to the Philippines for the first time.

Their journey to bringing in one of the biggest events for Filipino technopreneurs started when Shun Ishimoto happened to drop by AIM Professor Matthew Escobido's office. He wanted to discuss other activities when he heard Smart and IdeaSpace were bringing to Manila Geeks on a Plane, an invite-only tour for startups, investors, and executives to learn about high-growth technology markets worldwide.

Smart and IdeaSpace were looking for a venue for a technopreneurship summit, the first in a series of events for the Geeks on a Plane tour, and had difficulty finding a team who would help them manage this event.

"We found out that they were bringing Geeks on a Plane here, so we pitched for it. AIM is a good venue, as it is right in the middle of the central business district. Our students would be more than capable to help them run it," shared Professor Escobido, who mentored the student team managing the event. "I saw this as a challenge to our students: What if you could make this happen? If you are passionate enough and you believe in it, then let's do it."

Ishimoto's classmates, Nishant Abraham and Mica de Jesus, volunteered to be part of the team organizing the event. While he oversaw all the preparations, de Jesus focused on marketing and communications, and Abraham focused on the program and analytics.

For Escobido, the students' various areas of expertise created a well-rounded team that could manage such a huge event. "It's not just one group working, but more of converging groups having the same purpose, working together," said Escobido.

While preparing for the technopreneurship summit, Ishimoto met an AIM alumnus, Tom Gotuaco, who was working with Geeks on a Beach, a local movement inspired by Geeks on a Plane, where start-ups and entrepreneurs get to meet other entrepreneurs and innovators, and pitch their ideas to potential investors. The Geeks on a Beach team were handling another event in the tour, a 'speed dating' session where start-ups can pitch to potential investors, and they were also looking for a venue for the activity.

The students were encouraged to bring both activities to AIM, eventually negotiating for the AIM team to get a slot at the speed dating session.

Around 500 people ended up signing up for the summit, which then prompted the team to come up with a wat to screen potential attendees.

"Eventually, there were so many people who wanted to apply that we had come up with a metric to decide if we were to grant a seat to this person," shared de Jesus. "We asked ourselves, 'What does this person bring to the discussion? How many years of experience does he or she have in the start-up industry?"

The next phase of the team's work focused on developing the program for the summit. To ensure that the summit would address the entrepreneurs' concerns, the team decided to send their invitees as a survey, asking them about their interests. Once they received the attendees' feedback, they identified the topics to be discussed during the summit. They also checked out the profiles of the geeks flying to Manila to find out who could best discuss certain topics.

The team also worked to ensure that both sessions would have a mix of both local and international perspectives. "We wanted a global perspective — while some panelists were from Silicon Valley, others were from emerging markets," shared de Jesus. "Alice CEO Samer Karam, for example, brought the perspective from the Arab world. We wanted it to be attuned to what was going on, how start-ups are doing all across the globe."

The technopreneurship summit ended up having two sessions, the first focusing on opportunities for the Philippines and Southeast Asia, while the second session focused on best practices on innovation ecosystems.

The positive reception that they got from the attendees overwhelmed the students. "When people started swarming into the seats, I was surprised, but in a good way. We though initially that maybe we'd have a few empty seats," said de Jesus. "But the people who attended are really interested in the topic, because they have start-ups of their own. These are entrepreneurs who really want to find out how to get their business going."

I thought the most fun part of it was when we started hearing from other people about how great it was, the connections being made," added Abraham. "People were talking about it days after. We found out that everyone appreciated it and they all had this post-event glow."

The event also opened their eyes to other opportunities that they can pursue post-graduation. "Once you're there and you're listening to people, and they're now saying that this is the new face of the entrepreneur and this is what we should be doing to change the world," said de Jesus. "I thought that this was something I should consider, whether it was joining the investors' side or joining a start-up."

"I think MBA students have this culture of [thinking that] first, you'll get a superior education, then you're going to go into corporate, then you see people around you doing things differently and probably ten times better, you actually change your perspective," said Abraham. "You know that there's life outside of the corporate world, there's life beyond using your MBA as kind of a planner. You have to look beyond that."

In addition to organizing the technopreneur summit, Ishimoto also participated in the speed dating session, along with two incoming MBA students, pitching an idea to use case study discussions as a way for companies to decide who to hire. He noted that the process of organizing the event and taking part in the speed dating session taught him to be quick on his feet and focus on the present.

"When you're in the course, what you see is mostly theory. Cases try to make it more practical, but there are still limitations," said Ishimoto. "What I've leaned is that things do not go as planned and you have to cope with that. Theory is there to back up your plan, but in the end, what really matters is responding to what's going on."

Ishimoto, de Jesus, and Abraham are now looking at providing a way for start-ups to connect with each other and get access to the knowledge and the mentoring that they need.

"Some people were saying that they wanted a deeper discussion or a more workshop-style event," said Ishimoto. "We're now working on making this more sustainable. For us, Geeks on a Plane on a Plane is just the first event of the AIM for Innovation program. We're currently looking for opportunities how we can expand the conversation, how we can place ourselves in this community, where people can say that they are happy that AIM is part of the ecosystem."

He added, "One of the speakers, Ed Isidro, approached me after the event, and he's looking at co-developing something with us. What we're trying to do now is to develop a program — AIM has the knowledge and people, we can be the ones to connect them to each other, and from there, we could grow the ecosystem itself."

"We're working on building an online hub for investors, entrepreneurs, people who are interested in the start-up ecosystem, just so there's a touchpoint," shared de Jesus. "We're also thinking of a continuity plan with the incoming MBA students."

Escobido hopes that AIM would pursue more similar opportunities, to give students a chance to translate what they learn in the case room to reality, while creating an environment where the next generation can freely pursue entrepreneurship and innovation without fear or failure.

"When you look at the other ecosystems, the youth are empowered to do things, to make mistakes. This is something that we need to encourage more. We talk about the case method, bringing reality to the paper, and this one is as close as one can get to the real thing. These kinds of events would develop functional skills, both hard and soft," said Escobido. "While entrepreneurship will contribute to national development, it will also ultimately contribute to developing human resources. The next generation will pursue entrepreneurship and innovation and they will be better managers and leaders because of it."

We can be a place that innovators, entrepreneurs would flock to," he added. Come in here, share that you know, and from that, more will be insppired, and eventually we'll have a livelier ecosystem."


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