This is part two of a two-part series on the innovation tournament final in the Haas School's unique Problem Finding, Problem Solving course.
The Innovation Tournament is the culmination of the Problem Finding, Problem Solving course, a cornerstone of the Haas curriculum that grants first-year students the chance to roll up their sleeves and find out what it takes to create their own startup business ideas.
Our team’s project was titled “Making Extreme Mainstream.” We spent the semester exploring the action sports marketplace and looking for insights to help find ways to give less hard-core athletes access to sports that many view as scary, dangerous, and generally inaccessible, such as surfing and mountain biking.
On tournament day, we had three concrete ideas that had been lightly vetted through informal customer interviews, but not to the degree we were about to encounter during the tournament. The day is designed to generate meaningful interaction and feedback between project teams and the judging panel, which consists of successful entrepreneurs, business leaders, and venture capitalists. Each team is assigned a pair of judges, and is encouraged to create as many "iterations" of their concepts as possible to eventually form one core concept to pitch to the entire group of students and judges.
We had a lackluster performance right out of the gate, with the judges all but dismissing our first concept. However, as we’d done all year, the team stayed upbeat and our next idea was a hit, eventually evolving into our final execution—an online goal-setting platform designed to guide athletes through their journey as they learn a new action sport, providing them with instructional videos, connections to local coaches, gear-share options, and much more. We re-worked and eventually merged together our two remaining concepts as the day progressed, and although at first the tournament seemed like mayhem, the benefit of the iterative process soon became clear.
Our team won the "Collaborating for Innovation" award at the end of the session, which I can say confidently (but without attitude) we definitely earned. Teams that stay unified and positive on tournament day tend to be the most successful, as the pressure of the process can sometimes stifle the creativity and on-the-spot course correction that lead to best results. We stuck with a strategy that worked for us all term—laughing as much as possible and letting the results follow.