The BOS Team talks with Nicholas Benavides, the founder of the competition
American high school students from the state of Maryland partnered with the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), the largest and oldest business career student organization in the world, to create the first annual Blue Ocean Competition. Their desire was to apply blue ocean strategy to their entrepreneurial minds and gain real world business experience so they would be well placed to seize and create the future.
In the span of just five months, these students went from reading Blue Ocean Strategy to challenging the global marketplace. Inspired by Blue Ocean Strategy, the competition challenged teams to generate an idea for a new product or service that would create an uncontested market space rather than competing in a crowded market of red oceans.
Nicholas Benavides, a high school junior and vice president of his school’s chapter of FBLA, spearheaded the initiative. He saw a need for a competition that gave students the chance to cultivate a business proposal and execute a plan that could deliver their ideas to the world. Benavides realized that blue ocean strategy was the path in which he and his peers could achieve the business experience they craved.
He also knew all too well how some business opportunities for young people weren’t structured for actual growth.
You go to the business conferences (for high school students) and there are about 800 kids that attend a three-day conference. There’s competitions, there’s workshops, so it’s a place where kids can meet other people that are interested in business. But some business competitions are just multiple choice tests and you don’t really learn that much.”
The endeavor of creating a blue ocean competition first started by pitching the idea to the school’s chapter of FBLA. A non-profit organization developed in 1937, FBLA currently has 6,462 chapters that includes 235,000 members in 42 U.S. states, Brazil, the Cayman Islands, China, Europe, Haiti, Korea, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
FBLA’s mission is to bring business and education together in a positive working relationship through innovative leadership and career development programs for high school students. Twenty-nine percent of its high school members are seniors, 28% are juniors, 24% are sophomores and freshman make up 19% of the members respectfully. Fifty-five percent of its members are female, while 45% are male.
Among FBLA’s many goals, developing competent, aggressive leadership is at the top of the list. Strengthening the confidence of students in their work is another while encouraging development of individual projects that contribute to the improvement of home, business, and community exemplifies what the Blue Ocean Competition accomplished.
With the idea and support for the competition secured, the Blue Ocean Competition committee, chaired by Benavides and comprised of five other Centennial high school students and two Centennial High School teachers reached out to local businesses for financial support.
Next they contacted local business professionals that would volunteer their time and expertise as judges for the competition. CEOs, organization directors and many entrepreneurs were glad to participate in the Blue Ocean Competition.
The committee began marketing the event through city newsletters, social media, word of mouth and local media. The Baltimore Sun wrote a detailed profile about the importance of the blue ocean competition for young business-minded students and how it could nurture future business leaders.
Initially, the competition’s committee thought they would register 10-15 teams but were astonished when 29 teams signed up. The idea of applying blue ocean strategy to their ideas motivated the teams to think outside the box while seeing the exposure the blue ocean competition received in newsletters and a major U.S. newspaper gave participants added excitement. This was not just a school project, this was a real life business opportunity that would be monitored by the business world.
Consisting of students from about half of the high schools in the surrounding area, the Blue Ocean Competition not only brought in students from different chapters of the FBLA, but students who were not members of any high school business organization.
THE COMPETITION DAY
On May 31, teams were given 15 minutes to present their ideas to a panel of judges and answered questions about their product or service. Teams were scored in four categories: Value innovation and creativity (30%), viability of the idea (30%), knowledge of competition/industry (20%) and the overall presentation (20%). At the end of the first round, seven teams were invited back to present once again in front of all the judges. In the end, three ideas showed enough innovation, viability and imagination to be named winners.
The third place team’s product was a social media app that focused on positivity. This team was motivated by a strong desire to reverse the negativity experienced as a young person grappling with growing up in a social media world filled with cruel and judgmental viewpoints that can be shared with a click of a button. Logging onto this app, individuals would create a circle of friends and post complementary messages that everyone in the group could see, like and share.
Second place was awarded to a team that designed a product that could remove splinters in an easy and painless manner. The product, a bandage coated with an undisclosed chemical (which they learned about in AP biology class), is placed over the splinter and doused with water. After a period of time, the consumer’s skin slightly swells and when the bandage is removed, the splinter is extracted easily and painlessly.
The Blue Ocean Competition’s overall winner developed an idea for a ‘smart tampon.’ When saturated, a weight sensor would trigger a RFID chip that would send a signal to the smartphone of the consumer alerting a need for a tampon change. The overall idea was that this smart tampon could help young women avoid embarrassing moments and toxic shock syndrome (a potentially fatal disease caused by bacterial toxin).
Said Benavides of what set the winners apart,
Their ideas were unique, yet they were able to prove through research that their products would be viable. They had a cost assumption put together that really showed that they had really did their homework. They had a good idea of how much the product would cost.
With a growing knowledge of business, innovative ideas and entrepreneurial spirit, these students showed that they are at the beginning stages of learning how to make the competition irrelevant by implementing a blue ocean strategy. Currently, all three of these teams are in the process of securing patents and technical support to bring their innovative products to the market.
Led by Benavides, the Blue Ocean Competition committee has already received a large amount of applications from students interested in becoming part of the Blue Ocean Competition committee for next year. Among those who applied were students who heard of the competition’s success, while others were participants in this year’s competition who wanted to become more involved as the competition moves forward. With the growing interest, the Blue Ocean Competition is set to go statewide in this coming year’s competition.
The Blue Ocean Competition will undoubtedly continue to challenge students from all areas to find their own path, corner the uncontested market space and to create their own blue oceans.
Congratulations to Nicholas Benavides, the founder of the competition, the Blue Ocean Committee, the judges, the twenty-nine teams, and the three team winners. You have inspired us. We wish every high school student in Maryland blue oceans ahead as the Blue Ocean Competition goes statewide!
If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy reading the interview with Nicholas Benavides, the Founder of the Howard County Blue Ocean Competition.