What started last year as an effort to solve COVID-19 challenges transformed into a fast-paced virtual competition for Kelley Direct Online MBA students.
Held over a weekend in April 2021, the Idea Blitz introduced students to the process of developing, testing, and validating a business idea. Kelley Direct offered the intensive experience in lieu of Kelley On Campus, an in-person experience that was postponed due to safety and travel concerns.
“The Kelley Direct faculty and staff have become very nimble and found ways to engage students in spite of the pandemic,” said Punyatoya Mohapatra, MBA’22, a member of the winning Idea Blitz team. “The Blitz was something I wouldn’t have gotten to do without Kelley Direct. It was different and unique.”
The Idea Blitz combines components of two classic innovation models—a design sprint and a startup weekend. As in a design sprint, the teams follow a process to surface an idea, uncover insights, and prototype the concept. The weekend ends with a video pitch to a judging panel of venture funding experts.
“We’ve developed a strong set of materials that help students navigate their way through idea development, prototype building, validation, and product pitch at a rapid pace—in just 48 hours,” said event co-organizer Regan Stevenson, assistant professor of entrepreneurship and management and the John and Donna Shoemaker Faculty Fellow. “That time pressure gives them a bias toward action. Instead of getting stuck on things, they are forced to make decisions. We show them how to take small steps in the right direction to get the data they need to make critical decisions.”
Stevenson co-teaches the Blitz curriculum with Will Geoghegan, Interim Chair of Kelley Direct Programs and clinical assistant professor, and Greg Fisher, Larry and Barbara Sharpf Professorship and associate professor of entrepreneurship.
From idea to pitch
Taking small steps guided the winning team, which included Mohapatra and Nick Prazuch, MBA’22, to success.
“Our team was a lucky dip team, meaning we didn’t go into the Blitz with an idea formulated,” said Prazuch. “We quickly came together as a team and worked together from scratch.”
Most of the students had never met.
“You’re working with a group of individuals and you have no clue who they are,” Mohapatra said. “We had diverse and unique backgrounds, and there were people from many different industries. We experience problems in different ways and have different ways of coming up with solutions. That’s what makes the experience special.”
Mohapatra’s expertise is in research and development. Two of the six team members, including Prazuch, had marketing backgrounds. They also had experienced professionals in operations and finance.
“It was a unique challenge to figure out people’s strengths,” Prazuch said. “We had a balanced team with varied backgrounds to pull from. We broke down the core tasks into areas where we could split off and focus. These are skills we can apply to any role within business and to future careers.”
The team pitched a concept called BareHands, an app they described as “a marketplace to connect DIYers with experienced professionals to consult and teach you how to complete home improvement projects yourself.” The idea came from a team member’s personal experience with her father, an aging contractor who still wanted to help people.
“It’s a relatable and relevant issue for a lot of people,” Prazuch said. “Our research showed that many people want to renovate their homes and make improvements themselves but they don’t know how to do it. We wanted the root of that pitch to be in the emotional appeal.”
Once the idea surfaced, the team assigned responsibilities and got to work.
“We played on people’s strengths,” said Mohapatra. “We had mutual trust and the ability to delegate. We were flexible and agile, that’s something we’re taught at Kelley—how to adapt when a situation changes.”
Working in a cross-functional team, even virtually, has its challenges.
“We had students from time zones across the world with different functional backgrounds,” said Stevenson. “We had students in Africa, Asia, Hawaii. During the kickoff meeting, we put a lot of the emphasis on the importance of creating structure and prioritizing time management for the cross-functional teams.”
The MBA student in Hawaii—a Navy submarine officer stationed in Honolulu—was on the BareHands team.
“We worked together to allow him time to relax, then we’d bring him back in when we were ready,” Mohapatra said. “We had to be mindful of time zones and manage expectations.”
The Idea Blitz is designed to strengthen students’ capabilities as entrepreneurial innovators. It acts as a complement to the Kelley Direct Online MBA curriculum, Stevenson said.
“The MBA is phenomenal at giving students a systematic way to solve problems. But entrepreneurship isn’t straightforward. The Idea Blitz helps them build entrepreneurial cognition and build comfort with uncertainty,” Stevenson said.
The Blitz also gives students the opportunity to receive feedback from venture funding experts. The 2021 judges included Samantha Ginther, associate at High Alpha; James Hereford, co-founder and COO at Launch Factory; Kelli N. Jones, co-founder and general partner of Sixty8 Capital; and Christopher Lustrino, founder and CEO of KingsCrowd.
“All the participants were excited to have such a high-caliber group of venture funding experts join us for the finals,” Stevenson said. “They look at business plans and pitches every day. Students value their practical feedback on how to move forward.”
Prazuch is eager to apply Blitz feedback and experience to his role as a product manager.
“I learned a lot about the ability to be agile and the idea concepting process,” Prazuch said. “Using those concepts, including speed to market, can help my team expedite the process of developing new products.”
For Mohapatra, the Idea Blitz resulted in new connections and perspectives.
“The Idea Blitz helped me build new connections,” Mohapatra said. “Even the judges left us with a message that we can reach out to them for advice. I chose the Kelley Direct Online MBA to diversify my skills. The Blitz gave me a new understanding of business and how to solve problems with a team.”
It was also a cause for celebration.
“Amid the pandemic, it’s hard to have a winning spirit. That 48 hours gives you the winning spirit to celebrate your successes. The professors are so lively and made it so interactive and engaging. It was such a positive experience.”