The 12 teams now preparing for the final round of this year’s “HKUST One Million Dollar Entrepreneurship Competition” have already demonstrated the innovation and dynamism to conceive and lay out plans for a viable start-up. But now, with big prizes at stake, they must also convince the judges they have the business skills and real-world pragmatism to make their proposed venture a genuine going concern. It is a tough challenge, but rightly so, because the eventual winners will not just take home HK$300,000 in cash, but also get every support and encouragement to turn their ideas into an actual business, creating jobs, generating sales, and moving towards sustained profitability. “The main purpose of the competition, which is now in its fourth year, is to stimulate the community to take note of entrepreneurship and, importantly, to get people involved,” says Dr Steven Lee, acting director of the HKUST Entrepreneurship Center. “We are looking for realistic ideas, which can take the next step to become proper businesses able to operate successfully in a competitive market environment.” The event is open to HKUST students, alumni, staff and faculty, and the standards set are high. The original 110-plus entries were whittled down to a second-round 25 and the remaining 12 are now gearing up for a final set of tests in early June. This will involve a trade show, where teams have a booth on campus to “sell” their plans to the judges and other visitors. As well as a round of “elevator pitch”, summarising their proposals in a short, punchy speech, and formal business plan presentations, giving a thorough, probing evaluation. Trade show “This year, the competition has been structured a bit differently to ensure greater judging uniformity,” Lee says. “Previously, the judges put a lot of weight on the financial aspects, but perhaps not enough on the element of innovation and market entry barriers.” The broad directive for round one judges was to screen out ideas considered not feasible or not worthwhile – hence no “time machines” or endless variations on mobile apps. In the second round, most scrutiny was on the value proposition and the main problem teams were seeking to address. And from here on, attention will focus on the execution plan in order to assess its viability, the general “do-ability”, and whether the funding plans and financial projections look reasonable. To give the process real teeth, all final round judges are professional investors from outside the university. At various stages, the contestants have been able to attend workshops explaining the competition’s emphasis and objectives. However, they did not receive a detailed breakdown of scoring systems because the organisers did not want to encourage an “exam mentality”. Also, while the majority of entries in past years centred on areas of science and technology, this time there was a conscious effort to spread the net wider to attract more entries from the business school and to encompass social enterprises too. “Overall, we want to hammer home the point that entrepreneurship is not about finding a creative idea, or wishful thinking, but developing a real business,” Lee says. “That is why fundability is one of the key judging criteria and why the plans have generally become a lot more mature.