It was Spring 2017 when EBS and Solbridge International School of Business made a partnership contract that would able the students to go on an exchange year. For the first time ever, a team of students from EBS took part in the sixth annual international business plan competition in Daejeon, South Korea.
The competition built on the basics of a hackathon took place from 21-27 October. In 48 hours, the teams had to use both their analytical and negotiation skills to come up with a big data business plan for LG Electronics whose goal is to develop a new AI. The company, who is mostly producing domestic electronic appliances and cellphones, is the third biggest concern in South Korea with a workforce over 74 000.
EBS was represented by Liisa-Maria Lillepea, Aleks Korolenko, Jürgen Jürgenson and Rasmus Leichter. Marge Täks put a lot of effort into their preparation and motivated them during the crucial moments. Although the win went to Spain’s EDEM School of Entrepreneurship, EBS students wouldn’t change the experience for a anything.
The ebsters’ solution was to tie together people’s HER with present time health data. Today, we have an immense amount of daily health apps and gadgets that gather different data about us, but sadly the data is not being used. By combining the data and analyzing it we could help people be healthier, prevent diseases and direct people to the right specialists on time. “For doctors, it would be an opportunity to provide a more detailed overview and help diagnosing,” says Jürgen Jürgenson. Liisa-Maria Lillepea adds: “We got the assignment from the Manager of the LG strategic department. He gave a brief overview of where LG is today and then told us to dream big. Of course, realistically, so that our idea could actually work in real life, but when answering more specific questions he always said: “Dream big, you choose what to do”. On one side it was exciting and liberating, but for a competition that intense, working with no criteria was quite complex.”
“Although the average amount of sleep we got that week was around 3,5h, I can confirm that a person works best under pressure,” says Jürgen Jürgenson. That is confirmed by Aleks Korolenko. Jürgen says that the most important thing is to put the problem into words and then find a solution. As a team, they managed to find the right direction quickly and for him, AI is something he would like to work with more in the future.
”A great companion during our trip was Google that gave useful advice for the project and helped us with the cultural differences. Lecturer Marge Täks, who was with us on the trip, was a big help and motivated us to stay focused and give our best. I will be looking forward to the moment when EBS introduces AI and Big Data courses to its study program,” says Liisa-Maria. Rasmus Leichter mentions that they got a lot of theoretical knowledge about Korean (business) culture and customs from Ülle Pihlak’s course named Doing Business in Asia.
”There were a lot of memorable moments and all of them include victory or laughter” says Aleks. Rasmus brings out the fact that in Korea, especially in Daejeon, people speak very little – if at all – English and body language was what helped them out. Of course, Korean culture (for Liisa-Maria) and colorful nightlife (for Jürgen) are a memorable experience.
Why should students take part in international competitions?
Aleks: ,,Again, it’s not about winning but the participation. I got a lot of acquaintances from every continent (except Antarctica) and we had a great time. I’ve got a place to stay from Australia to Austria now.”
Liisa-Maria:,,Primarily, to develop yourself and your view of the world. You can leave these competitions with a great experience, expanded network and new knowledge or without any of that. Every day is a challenge and requires you to overcome yourself but altogether gives you an experience that no one else has and is very unique.’’
Rasmus: ,,That kind of a project really puts a student to the test. It gives you a superpower as well – you can learn more there in a week than you do by living for a year doing normal stuff.’’
Jürgen: ,,Contacts, contacts and contacts – they’re the base of a successful career. There were people from 24 countries there. Besides the competition, we had a lot of dinners/company visits that were a great way to get to know others.’’
Mentor Marge Täks says that taking part in an international competition provides lecturers with new knowledge, experiences and contacts to work with in the future. It also gives a chance to get to know the customs and culture of another country. Good preparation is what makes a team good in competitions as well as entrepreneurship overall. The want to test yourself, knowing the expectations, positivity, friendliness, open-mindedness, communicating freely, language skills humour and, of course, a little bit of luck is what makes you successful.
Korea is a country where English doesn’t suffice to do business. There are people who speak great English, but most of them don’t even know the meaning of ”hello”. You get bonus points for knowing even the basics of Korean, but to do serious work there, you have to learn the language.
Quite unexpectedly, Koreans are nationalists, even radical at times. A white or darker-skinned people must accept that every once in a while they can be charged more or even refused a deal. Strong hierarchy is present in their personal relationships. Elders can act superior towards youngsters but not vice versa. The younger have to shut up and accept it.
Global giants (eg Samsung, Lg, Hyundai) – it’s very difficult for a foreigner to be in a high position there, locals are strongly preferred.
Even though Korea sells a lot of western production, they’re all customized for the local market. In some cases, translating the package and name is enough but in other cases one has to change the product. Locals mostly prefer local production. For example, in Korea, 40% of the cars are Hyundai, 35% Kia and all others Samsung-Renault, Chinese or EU cars. There’s a tiny amount of Japanese production because the two countries don’t get along at all.
For an entrepreneur, solving the Korean waste problem would be a great challenge. They say that they’re very advanced recyclers but not in the first phase. Streets are lined with garbage, trash bags are usually gathered randomly on walkways. It’s normal not to find a trash bin in the city’s populated areas in a 1km radius. In the mornings, old men with trucks or even rollers come to gather the bags by hand, but there’s no hint of special containers or garbage trucks.
During pitching and public talks, it is important to be as specific and short as possible and stick to the time limit. Avoid telling personal stories (that our audience loves). For example, for the LG representative, a 1-hour time limit was given to talk about the background and assignment of the competition (SolBridge is an international university and the timetable wasn’t probably made by the locals). The LG representative was off the stage in ten minutes.
The contracts are high – at points high-tech, at points the third country of the world (waste disposal issues, weak social security eg in 2011 45% of 65+ people lived in poverty (OECD).)
Editor Kärt Mättikas
Translator Triin Tikk
Pictures: Liisa-Maria Lillepea