Taylor and Nicole were long shots. After tears flowed during the semifinals in response to a sharp question from a judge, the ladies were sure they had taken themselves out of the competition. But they won their group and their product was the talk of the tournament.
Men weren’t really sure what to make of it. I arrived early at the finals to greet the judges. All of them expressed some discomfort about quizzing the team on their product: a disposable device that allowed women to urinate standing up. Honest anatomical questions were exceeded only by concerns about acceptance of a product that seemed to violate social norms. I walked from the reception area to the Joust room having written Smartway Cup out of the competition. It just had too many questions to overcome in a twenty minute presentation and ten minute Q&A session.
I was wrong. The team had developed a masterful presentation that tackled all of the issues head-on. The fact that while men didn’t get the product, some women loved it. The fact the female urinals were springing up in Europe and Asia. The fact that they had a much more sanitary product than the competition. The fact that they understood the price point, had solid financials, and knew how to sell the product to a target market of early adopters. As a very experienced and successful panel of business people asked their questions, you could hear skepticism turning to interest in the tones of the judges’ voices. When they were finished, I knew Nicole and Taylor were in the hunt. When all the teams had finished, you could sense an upset in the making.
I talk constantly about the need for students to get out of their comfort zones, accept the possibility of failure, and use data to drive their decision-making. Taylor and Nicole took everyone way outside their comfort zones. They learned from their past experience and used data along with a crisp presentation to ally fears, overcome social norms and pitch a potentially disruptive product that no one had given a chance at the beginning of the day.
So stand up ladies everywhere. Smartway Cup has won the Joust! You go girls! (honestly, the marketing slogan possibilities are endless.)