Emerging Markets Institute sponsored the representative team from Samuel Curtis Johnson School of Management.
The Team: Stephane Corgie Cornell Post-Doc (Cornell McGovern Center), Chris Kim MBA’15, Brennan Duty MBA’15, Abhijeet Bais MBA’15, and Margaret Wu MBA’15.
Where – The Sasin Graduate Institute of Business Administration, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok
Why – The most prestigious and biggest competition in South East Asia region and is honored by the reigning King of Thailand. In 2015, the competition had introduced H.R.H. Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn’s Sustainability Award to further highlight the competitions’ emphasis on social and environmental responsibility.
There were about 16-20 judges from all walks of life; some were CPA/CFA financial people, while others were academics, entrepreneurs and/or business professionals.
When – February 12-14th 2015
Please talk about UMA Bioseed Business model – target market, future growth strategies, and impact on the environment.
UMA BioSeed has a proprietary seed coating technology that coats seeds with organic enzymes to offer broad-spectrum protection against viruses, fungi and bacteria. Current seed coating technologies rely on synthetic or toxic chemicals to fight against one or two pathogen types, but not all three. Our product is completely organic and destroys all the three types of pathogens. By destroying pathogens on the seed and in the soil immediately surrounding the seed, the plant survives and thrives during germination, thus ensuring maximized yields.
Currently, $12B in crop losses occur due to pathogens attacking seeds during the germination stage. Our business model is to act as a third party seed coater to seed suppliers such as Sakata, Bayer CropSciences, etc. We would white label our technology and allow these companies to sell seeds with our coating under their preferred brand name. We charge per pound of seed coated.
The target market is vegetable crops. This is because the margin for vegetable crops is significantly higher than commodity crops like corn and soy. Thus, when vegetable crop losses due to pathogens occur, these farmers feel a bigger pinch than do commodity crop farmers.
In terms of growth strategy, we plan to protect the intellectual property in key agricultural markets so we can sell our coating technology there, e.g. Brazil.
Why do you think your proposal won the competition in Bangkok?
Team: We believe that the single most important factor in our success was our team. We knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We knew who would best tackle certain parts of the presentation. We refined the pitch multiple times incorporating all the feedback we have received to make it as it came out in the finals. At the end of the day the pitch was a lot about theatre. If you want to bring your audience along, we have to put forward the right points.
One other thing the Judges really liked about our team was that we were admitting that there were holes in our business and the judges loved it. We were the only team who were willing to accept mistakes.
“In the final round, we were asked, ‘If this fails, do we lose money?’, and Brennan said, ‘Yes! We are asking you to come on this journey with us.’” – Margaret
Idea: We had the fundamentals right – Operations, Finance, Marketing and what we plan to do with the capital and how much equity we were offering and all the intricacies of a business. We actually talked to potential buyers of our technology to make the pricing strategy more accurate.
“The Judges knew the technology was possible as they saw me at the 2014 competition and UMA BioSeed is a derivative of the parent technology” – Stephane
The Grand Final: The final round was not a typical presentation round; we were at the judges’ discretion, as in they had the option of not letting us complete our pitch. The judges could stop us anytime from the 5-minute mark and just do a Q&A from then on.
“We won the final because we had really used the format to our advantage. Every round had a different format ” – Abhijeet
We structured our presentation to cover what we wanted in the first 5-minutes. Margaret and Abhijeet came up with the brilliant idea of adding an executive summary slide after every section and by doing this the judges were going back to the main points we wanted them to know. We controlled the flow of the presentation and we nailed it in terms of being in command. The other teams were struggling to maintain balance and answer all the questions by the Judges. To the end of it all it was more of a dialogue than a Q&A.
“When the judges realized all their questions were being answered, they were no longer asking investor questions; they were asking hypothetical ethical questions and Brennan handled them like a champ!” – Margaret
“Fun! We have a great team and complement each other’s skill set. At the competition itself, we were burning the candle from both ends, only getting 3-4 hours of sleep a night for three nights in a row. Thus, when we won, we collapsed into each other’s embraces and high-fives – we were ecstatic!” – Team
“You could tell that every other team was actually a business and had been running for at least an year” – Margaret
“Receiving the award from the official representative of the King of Thailand was such an honor, as was being interviewed on live Thai TV (Money channel)! Finally, the boat cruise that evening to celebrate the competition was just surreal…floating down the river that bisects Bangkok, having amazing food, dancing with friends, and watching the fireworks set for us illuminate the night sky against ornate and ancient Buddhist temples” – Brennan
The Bangkok team celebrates the win back in Ithaca. From left to right: Dean Soumitra Dutta, Chris Kim, MBA’15, Associate Dean Vishal Gaur, Academic Director Andrew Karolyi, Executive Director Richard Coyle, MBA ’86, Abhijeet Bais, MBA ’15, Academic Director Lourdes Casanova, Brennan Duty, MBA ’15, Stephane Corgie, and Margaret Wu, MBA ’15.