Sunday, 11 May 2008

Reflections on the 'Unipreneurs' Experience

I have been meaning to post my reflections on the whole 'Unipreneurs' experience for some time now. Two things have held me back. Firstly I had to take a week off work to be with my family at a difficult time and I've been clearing the backlog of work which leaves little time for blogging but coming a close second is the fact that if I am honest I have some reservations about the competition

The competition process was as follows:
1) Fill in online application form and send supporting evidence
2) Entries are narrowed down to 100 called "Top 100"
3) Entries narrowed down to 20 called "Super 20"
4) Entries narrowed down to 10 called "Semi Finalists"
5) Semi Finalists 10 Invited to HSBC Tower for panel interview
6) Final 5 announced called "National Finalists"
7) National Finalists are filmed
8) NFs are quizzed live on stage infront of specially selected audience
9) Audience vote for winner with remote handsets at theatre seats
10) Winner announced later that evening

To my understanding this is the first time "Unipreneurs" has used this format and frankly it puzzles me for a number of reasons. From the time I submitted my application form (step 1) to the 10 Semi Finalists being announced (step 4) we did nothing. No further information was requested and no discussion was entered into, the same document is used to narrow down the top 100, 20 and 10. I understand that filtering the competition in stages, 'top 20', 'semi finalists', 'national finalists' etc is good for PR and good for the entries that made the top 100 but not the top 5 but to do so on the basis of the original document when they knew all along who would make the interview at step 5 only seems to me a little pointless at best. The Interview stage, however, was truly a joy. I blogged about it in Feb. The judges were interesting, interested insightful and the day was organised to perfection. James and I both enjoyed the fact it was held in HSBC tower Canary Wharf and felt it was worth the long journey down. Similarly the experience of being filmed for our short film which I blogged about in March was also fantastically fun.

Then comes the final. I was hugely looking forward to this event and cautious that history is indeed written by the victors I would be remiss not to point out that a)we were not victorious and b) these are my impressions and opinions alone. Upon arrival James and I had a little trouble with the hotel that had been booked for us, (or not booked as the case may be) but this was swiftly rectified and we were lead up into the finalists holding area. It was explained that the format would be as follows: A welcome address to the audience by Jenni Falconer, then one by one the judges would be introduced and welcomed to the stage (Lisa Buckingham, Editor, Financial Mail on Sunday, Dragons' Den Entrepreneur Peter Jones, Designer Wayne Hemingway and William Kendall, former CEO Green & Blacks and New Covent Garden Soup Company) Then each of the final companies would in turn have their film shown to the audience and spend 15 minutes on stage discussing their idea. We were first. We had been shown the theatre space prior to our onstage 'discussion' but not introduced to the judges. The judges had been given a DVD of the 5 introductory films prior to the final but each of the finalists had not been allowed to see the finished cut of their own film. The audience had been given a small information pack upon their arrival...

The event was simply not what we were lead to believe it would be. The onstage judges (who, I should mention, had no voting powers - only the ability to lead the voting audience) were there as I understood it to ask relevant questions and draw out answers to enlighten the audience and allow them to make a choice at the end of the evening. In reality it was like an audition for the Dragons' Den or X-factor. The questions were loaded, the tone argumentative and confrontational and whilst RBD fared surprisingly well some of these National Finalists were unfairly told their ideas were non viable. To add to this some finalists had been explicitly told that props and fliers were forbidden and then some finalists produced prototypes on stage!

Then comes the audience vote. I was surprised that a large proportion of the invited voters did not turn up and a number of voting handsets were left unused (or, as I later found, out open to double voting by entrepreneurial individuals!)

The announcement was held at a reception less than an hour later and, again, the reception was fantastically organised and the announcement and speakers were inspirational. Hew Morgan, (head of Business Banking at HSBC) specifically is a wonderfully interesting and engaging speaker. James and I stayed chatting until the free drink ran dry and went for a pizza before retiring, shattered, to our hotel.

As yet The HSBC website has still not been updated to reflect the competitions conclusion or to name the winners.

So there you have it, my run down of the event. 90% positive but in places somewhat flawed. But don't take my word for it! Some of the other finalists have blogged about their experiences too:

Rate My Placement's 'Unipreneurs Final' experience

All that is left for me to do is leave you with a few pictures and our video as shown at the event.

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