Business

Eco Structure pitch wins Vincent HoSang venture competiton

BY JOSIMAR SCOTT
Observer writer

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

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Recognising that solid waste management poses a huge threat to Jamaica's natural environment, team Eco Structure presented a winning solution and emerged as champions of The Vincent HoSang University of the West Indies (UWI) Venture Competition.

In its 14th year, the Vincent HoSang Family Foundation-sponsored pitching competition was held last week at the UWI's Mona campus.

Though 29 start-ups had begun the journey to win the grand prize of $300,000 in grant funding in November last year, on Friday, only five qualified to present their ideas to a panel of judges comprising Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship CEO Lisandra Rickards; Anthony Lawrence, director, GraceKennedy; Vennecia Christian Barnes, managing director of Caribbean Money Lenders; and Douglas Halsall, chairman and CEO of Advanced Integrated Systems.

Among the start-ups was Eco Structure, represented by Shananlee Cawley and Kristoffer Henry, whose proposal hinged on creating a block-making company that incorporates shredded plastic bottles into concrete to manufacture a durable and cost-effective product.

After the presentations and much deliberation, Eco Structure emerged the winning team. The start-up also won prizes for Best Presenter (Cawley), Best Presented Financials, and the Joan Duncan Award for Corporate Social Responsibility.

“It's humbling because we are part of a larger group in terms of the people who've come together to put together [different] businesses,” Cawley shared with the Jamaica Observer about the win.

“We were quietly confident, as we always are. We had extensive training in making these presentations from our MBA (Master of Business Administration) programme, so we know once we were prepared, we always stand a good chance,” Henry, an engineer at the National Works Agency, added.

When asked how the knowledge gained from the MBA at the Mona School of Business (MSBM) helped the team to secure the win, Henry explained: “Well, just being very specific as to the things that people looked for, investors looked for in a business plan and really how to convey that message effectively.”

“One of the courses at MSBM, for example, new ventures that was done at Dr Sandra Palmer – she really pushed understanding investors, understanding a product, understanding how to bring a business to market. So she's, I would say, one of our influential persons in this particular exercise, but all the other lecturers that we had throughout our MBA programme were very really supportive in terms of encouraging personal development — presentation skills, planning skills, the whole gambit of it,” Cawley expounded.

So what does the future hold for Eco Structure? The team, along with their mentor, will be hosted by the Vincent HoSang Family Foundation in New York from August 14–19, having awarded an all-expense paid trip. There the team members will meet entrepreneurs and philanthropists in the Jamaican Diaspora.

However, Eco Structure will not be sitting on its laurels as the team now aims to get its product to market, according to Henry.

When pressed about securing a patent for the product, as suggested by one of the judges, Cawley told the Business Observer, “From the inception we did think about that, but we're still in the testing phase so we want to get it right. We're actually advanced in that area (testing) right now, so it's a matter of refining what we've done and bring it straight to one of the larger entities that certify that type of product.”

The Eco Structure team also consists of Tricia Bent, who was not part of the presentation.

Despite this, Cawley praised her teammate for being a resourceful member and for putting together the PowerPoint presentation. In fact, both Cawley and Henry were convinced that each member's “unique skills” added to the final winning proposal, and that those skills were imparted to build each other's capacity.

Taking second place was Skolastic Oasis, which aims at providing consultation to people in search of scholarships using an algorithm to match gender, nationaility, GPA, and study interest — broadening the search beyond the traditional markets of the US, Canada and UK to include Europe, Asia and Oceania. The start-up also won the Most Commercially Ready Project award and $200,000 in funding.

In third was Research Aid Plus, whose proposal was for the creation of an algorithmic database that connects “people with the [particular] knowledge they need” when they need it, as well as converting the data into presentation format.

The other start-ups which presented were Eagles Car Consulting and Haemo-Kingz.

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