This is a great little piece by David Koeppel in The Fiscal Times (24 October 2011) describing Columbia Business School Professor Murray Low’s work with students. Low welcomes creative craziness from his students because sometimes out of inspired madness, comes the next Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg.
Students bring their offbeat ideas to the school’s annual “Outrageous Business Plan Competition” in April where they’re judged for their creativeness—and their potential to succeed in the real world. “We’re focusing on things that are real and achievable, we want ambitious ideas that are at the same time not flakey,” says Low. “Sometimes students need to focus on crazy, silly ideas, to get their creative juices flowing.”
This approach highlight the fun students can have while thinking about ideas that are out of the box. It shows that developing entrepreneurial skills is just as much about the “soft skills” of thinking creatively as it is about the “hard skills” of putting a business plan together, raising funds, etc.
I’m still appalled by the heavy emphasis given to business plans and cash flows in so many so-called entrepreneurship training programmes. Sure, these things have their place, but this is not the source of entrepreneurship and innovation.
We need much more of this kind of activity in all settings.
Here are the nine “wacky” student business ideas:
- TakeOff Underwear: women’s underwear that could be easily removed with a velcro strip; conceived as a way to avoid “awkward romantic” encounters.”
- Ramensquare: a vending machine that makes fresh customized Ramen noodles in about three minutes.
- Entom Foods: “de-shelled” insect meat… “We will make insects more palatable, similarly to removing the beak and feathers of a chicken…”
- Devon’s Dirt Cheap Compost: an environmentally friendly business that “specializes in the collation and distribution of worm waste through the process of “vermi-composting,” which uses the critters to feed on decomposing waste material like kitchen scraps to produce a nutrient-rich fertiliser.
- MyBad Industries: a collection of T-shirts that reads “MyBad” on the front, and “I’m a Work in Progress” on the back.”We call this apology lifestyle clothing,” says Zach Rohde, 19 years…
- Massox: men’s designer socks made of bamboo fiber and equipped with acupressure massagers inside the sock’s surface.
- Wix: a liquid filled disposable cartridge that fits comfortably over a soda can. “Think a portable Jack-and Coke in less than three seconds…” “No spills. No cup. No makeshift bar.”
- Terra Solutions: biodegradable diapers made of soybeans (among other soybean and corn-based products), a product intended to appeal to environmentally conscious parents.
- Are You A Human?: “verification” software for websites and advertisers seeking to distinguish between real people and computers.
Watch the winners of Columbia’s Outrageous Business Plan Competition pitch their ideas here: