20 teams, 16 countries, dozens of university students gathered in Bucharest, Romania to compete for the title of best JA Start Up Company in Europe as a part of the European Enterprise Challenge. This incredible event proves that the students of today are on the watch and will once change the world. This year, over 14 000 university students from over 300 universities are participating in the JA Start Up Program.
The two day competition was organized by Junior Achievement Romania.
Finland was represented by the Company “the Great Escape NY” from Kajaani University of applied sciences by its team members Sarianna Juntunen, Olga Kemppainen, Olli Kähkönen, and Tia Lahtinen. The team built an escape room during the school year, which proved to be extremely popular. Several hundred customer grous have visited. An escape room is a room, where a group of people go inside and must through solving puzzles and team work find their way out of the room in 60 minutes.
“You win or learn; you never lose!” were the words of the team at the end of the competition even though no awards were won by them.
The competition was won by the Romanian start up, Save Energy. Their product is a smart power outlet that detects an unused electric appliance and stops the flow of electricity to it. The runner up and 2nd runner up, SafetyChair and Danish Cardboard Tech respectively, came from Denmark. Both have considered health and wellbeing in their business ideas.
During the two day final, a jury consisting of business executives reviewed the business ideas, challenged the concepts, and offered advice and finally chose a winner for the competition. Continue reading for a more detailed report on what happened in Romania.
Day 1: Jury interview and company presentation practice
Already on day one, the contestants had to face the jury in a small conference room. They resented a two minute pitch followed by a 10 minute Q&A session about the potential of the company. The judges heard the pitch challenged different concepts and inquired about the business idea to better understand the decisions taken by the entrepreneurs.
After the interview, a relaxed team emerged from the conference room. “The grilling is over,” was the first comment from the entrepreneurs. The first and most likely hardest step has now been taken. As advice for future contenders, the team recommends staying focused and keeping it simple.
Before retiring for the evening the team had a chance to practice their four minute company presentation at the real stage. After resolving some technical difficulties and fine tuning the presentation was clocked at three minutes and twelve seconds. There plenty of spare time left, so the host recommended taking it slower in the beginning and end to help emphasize the message of the presentation.
The first day came to an end with a little tour and dinner in the old town of Bucharest. Did you know that the parliament of Romania in Bucharest is one of the world’s largest and heaviest buildings, with an electricity usage equal to that of a small city?
The second day of the final was to decide everything.
Day 2: Trade fair, company presentations and announcing the winner
The World Trade Center of Bucharest wakes to a different kind of morning. On the second day of the final, the students had a chance at impressing the public with their products at a trade fair. The lobby of the building was full of exhibition stands and attendees. Everything was crowned by the business ideas the students have developed for the entire year.
During the two hour expo, the panel of judges interviewed the teams at their stands, the students had a chance to get to know each other’s ideas. The photo gallery of pictures from the fair is available on Facebook.
“The Great Escape” represented Finland with style in company uniforms. At least four more escape rooms can be expected: a mobile escape room: The Great Escape Truck and a jump to virtual reality with VR-glasses.
The company presentations followed the trade fair in English and in front of all the judges and participants. The Finnish team entered the stage. The lights dimmed and the team grabbed microphones. After four minutes, a cheer of applauses escorted the team off stage to wait for the decision of the jury.
The Great Escape NY: Olli Kähkönen, Sarianna Juntunen, Tia Lahtinen and Olga Kemppainen represented Finland.
In addition to The Great Escape, 19 other companies were seen on stage, who did not turn out cold either. From every presentation it was evident that everyone believed in their own idea. After the presentations, the jury retired to ponder on who to select as the winner of the competition and the best JA Start Up Company in Europe.
After the intense deliberation of the jury, the contestants met in the Auditorium of the Trade World Center for the awards ceremony. During the awards dinner, the CEO of JA Worldwide, Asheesh Advania, who has in himself participated in the JA Company Program during his youth. His advised: “It’s ok to fail, then just get up and try again.”
After the speeches and some food, the real deal began: the awards ceremony. Altogether four awards were being given out. The Cisco Techentrepreneurship award, NN Social Innovation Award, EY Business Vision Award, and the main award of Best JA Start Up Company of Europe. In the end, the awards went to two countries.
The main award, the EY Business Vision, and the Cisco Techentrepreneurship awards went to the host country Romania when Save Energy won the main award and the EY Award. The second company from Romania, Serafim, received the Cisco Techentrepreneurship Award. The two participating Danish teams were the runner up and 2nd runner up for the title of Best JA Start Up Company in Europe and shared the NN Social Innovation Award.
After the dinner, there was (loud) local music, a toast for the winners and the successful event.
Two days of start up life in Romania in the middle of July does not sound like the typical plan for a summer vacation, but an inspiring two days they truly were. It is incredible what young people can do when given the chance to try their ideas and entrepreneurship for real. The JA Start Up Program offers a chance for this in Finland next year with over 25 schools participating all around Finland.
Next summer, the best JA Start Up Companies from Finland will gather in Helsinki, when Junior Achievement Finland organizes the European Enterprise Challenge competition on 28th and 29th of July 2017. Mark down these days on your calendar and stay tuned for more.