Tournament challenges students’ creativity
By Zoey Duncan
Leave it up to entrepreneurs to develop a class that crosses the boundaries of typical university learning situations. The Innovation Tournament, part of the intro to entrepreneurship course, gives students a little more than a week to create value – and 20 per cent of their course grade – from practically nothing.
This semester, the mystery item was revealed to students on March 9. They all tore open plain brown paper lunch bags to find a small pile of blank business cards. It’s difficult to gauge whether the business cards are a more difficult starting point than last semester’s ball of twine or a previous class who had just a plain brown paper lunch bag to deal with.
Alex Bruton, assistant professor in the Bissett School of Business said that the business cards were chosen about a week prior to the reveal, after an idea-tossing session with faculty members.
After the reveal, students were quick to begin discussing how they were going to yield some kind of value – and it was their duty to define value – out of an unlimited number of business cards.
“Our first idea was selling business cards, so that tells you how far we are,” joked student Casey Phibbs after the reveal.
The idea behind the Innovation Tournament came from Stanford University. The entrepreneurship faculty at MRU asked permission to adapt the idea, and the inaugural tournament kicked off with the paper bag battle in 2008.
The intro to entrepreneurship course is an eye-opener, said entrepreneurship chair Kori Street, especially for students outside the entrepreneurship faculty.
“It teaches you to start looking at opportunities instead of obstacles,” Street said. “It starts that process of looking at the world and not seeing the things that are going to stop you, but the things that are going to start you, and I think that’s something that any student can use.”
The course, ENTR 2201, is a general education course that was designed with non-business students in mind.
After brainstorming, bingeing on caffeine and creating a three-minute video to promote their idea, all of the students gathered at the Continuous Learning Centre for a night of networking and the final judging of the
projects. In class time, students judged each video based on how well value was created using the mystery object. The top two teams in each of the three classes were sent to the finals.
“Every day for the past 11 days has been awful… no, so much fun but so much stress,” said Justin Machan, whose team finished third overall. Machan’s group swapped a business card for a better item, then traded up that item, and so on, until finally they were given $500, which they used to start a scholarship. “It’s been a lot of fun; a great learning experience. I enjoyed it.”
“This is probably the best program I’ve ever been in, in seven years of a college and university career,” said Machan, who is currently in open studies but intends to get into the entrepreneurship minor.
Other top-six finalist included business card-sized resumes, “Slip-its” on which people can write friendly notes, and inspirational messages written on business cards and hung on a tree outside of the east gate on campus.
The winning team focused on creating value both for their community and themselves. Valetta used the business cards as a canvas for hand-drawn artwork, which they then edited digitally. The art was printed, framed and sold to customers.
Valetta earned $1,700 in profit, which they divided between group members, charity and group member Chelsey Patrick’s trip to Haiti to work with displaced women and children.
“I think I’ve only had maybe 20 hours or less sleep in the last 6 days,” said Valetta member Matthew Zoeteman, also saying that each group member probably contributed 90 hours to the project.
“We really wanted to win,” said Zoeteman. “I mean the two per cent is good that you get as a bonus, but for us it was more the pride of actually going out and winning, and it’s kind of cool that we actually [made] a business out of it. Taking something pretty much worth nothing and creating $1,700 worth in profits is pretty fantastic.”