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Interview with Nicholas Benavides, Founder of the Howard County Blue Ocean Competition

Fathers introduce their sons to a lot of things at their coming of age. How to throw a baseball, how to take responsibility for family and maybe even how to shave.

But at a young age, Nicholas Benavides’ father introduced him to the art of business and the book Blue Ocean Strategy. “I read a lot of business books, which I guess is not the norm for someone my age but my dad has introduced me to a lot of business books and Blue Ocean Strategy was one of them. He thought I would enjoy the stories about the various companies and how they became successful,” said Benavides.

In just over a week, Benavides, a rising senior at Centennial High School in Maryland, had read the entire Blue Ocean Strategy book and gained a new perspective on business innovation.

Immediately, Benavides knew he wanted to share what he had learned with other people his age interested in business. His idea to involve other students became a reality when he created the Howard County Blue Ocean Competition, an entrepreneurial competition centered around the concepts outlined in Blue Ocean Strategy.

Nicholas Benavides

Nicholas Benavides
Founder of Howard County Blue Ocean Competition

We talked with Nicholas about what inspired him to take on this endeavor, the great ideas each team presented and what the future holds for the Howard County Blue Ocean Competition.

The BOS Team: Was there a particular part of the philosophy/book that really gave you a spark and inspired you to create?

Nicholas Benavides: After I read the book, I thought the message could really benefit teens. So I wanted to create a way to share the ideas of this book.

BOS: What was the process of putting the competition together? Did you build a team within the Future Business Leaders of America organization to help you foster your idea into reality?

NB: When I had the idea for the competition I took it to the business club at my school which is called The Future Business Leaders of America. So I pitched it to our board and they were really excited. We gathered a community of students and teacher advisers and from there we started to create the competition. I pitched the idea at the end of January, so we had about 5 months to put the whole thing together.

BOS: What was that whole process?

NB: The first step was sponsorship, which meant a lot of emails and calls to local businesses and trying to get some support for the competition. Some of that money went to the awards for the winners, some of it went to general expenses, running the event, food, things like that.

After the sponsors, we recruited our judging panel, reaching out again to the local businesses to see if anyone would be interested in volunteering their time to help us. After we had the judges and sponsors, it was about recruiting the teams. To do that we created a Facebook page, we made a video, I did presentations in some of the classes at my school and other schools around the county just to spread the word. We had a blurb in the county newsletter and reached out to a reporter at the Baltimore Sun to give us a little more exposure. So we tried to hit it from a bunch of angles, from the students, the newspaper, social media, and the video.

BOS: Tell us about the actually process of receiving the entries…

NB: The teams filled out a Google form so they could register online and once the registration closed, we had 29 teams which was a lot more than we expected. We initially were hoping for around 10-15 teams but we didn’t know how much demand it would be for this type of competition, but the students proved us wrong. In a good way. After registration we had a kick-off, where we had all the teams meet, I talked a little bit about the whole competition process, the book and blue ocean strategy. I told them about companies that have leveraged the strategy and just answered some questions and got everyone excited about the competition.

BOS: Do you remember exactly what said about blue ocean strategy to get them ready for the competition?

NB: I talked about the difference between red and blue oceans. The whole concept of the competition was to come up with a blue ocean idea. A new project that adds value to the consumer in a way that other companies aren’t currently doing?

BOS: Were they receptive of that, did it make them even more excited about the competition?

NB: I think it helped to make them think more about it because we got some very interesting and different ideas. I don’t know if they would have come up with these ideas if we didn’t stressed the concept of value innovation. It was really amazing to see the ideas and the quality of the presentations. It really blew me and the judges away.

BOS: Walk me through that Saturday of the contest.

NB: I got to school around 8 in the morning to set up and put up signs, help people find where they needed to be for their presentations. The judges, students and advisors showed up around 8:30-8:45. We had breakfast and the competition itself started around nine o’clock.

We budgeted 15 minute presentation slots, which included a 6 minute presentation, a 6 minute Q&A and a 3 minute transition period to get the next team set up.
And we had two rooms running simultaneously, so from about 9:00 to 12:30 we had the teams presenting for the first round. Then we tallied up the scores, had some lunch and called the top 7 teams back for a final presentation in front of all the judges.

There were four different criteria (for scoring), the first was innovation and creativity which was 30% of the total score. The second was viability of the idea which was another 30% and another 20% was knowledge of competition, industry, target consumer and things like that. And the last 20% was just the presentation quality.

BOS:What set apart the winners?

NB: 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.

The presentations were very visual and professional. One of the biggest things was you could see the passion for these products. And some of the participants are going forward with their ideas. One person made a prototype of their (mobile) app, and there’s another person trying to get a patent on their idea. It’s a really cool to see that these kids are going forward at such a very young age.

BOS: From an older person’s perspective, it seems young people are more into social media than business….but one team merged the two….what is the overall climate of young people who want to get into business?

NB: I’m definitely not alone, far from the average high school teenager. From what I’ve seen from the business clubs at schools there is some interest. But it’s probably a little bit more than you would imagine. 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 learn and meet other people that are interested in business.

BOS: So did all of the teams come just from the business associations from different high schools?

NB: We have about 50 members in our school business chapter. But in the competition we had a lot of teams that were from outside the business group, which was good to see.

BOS: How do you think that came about…?

NB: Part of it was the cash incentive but also they thought of it was an opportunity to learn and experience more of a real world business. Some of the other (business) competitions have multiple choice tests and you really don’t learn that much.

BOS: Did it inspire you and others?

NB: It’s defiantly inspired me just in turns of showing me that with some passion and determination you can really make good things happen. And because of the response we got this year I want to take the competition statewide. Which is going to require a lot more work on the frontend but kids have shown that there’s a demand for this and we want to expose as many students as possible to the blue ocean strategy and entrepreneurship in general.

BOS: Already in plans to take it statewide?

NB: I just sent out the application for next year’s committee so we’ll have the candidates in a week or two and then from there we’ll set up the committee. I’m going to start to raise funds in the next month or so just to have some of that stuff taken care of before we even get back to school.
We’ll like to have it earlier because we couldn’t have a lot of senior teams this time because they had already graduated.

BOS: Tell us more about the winning teams and their ideas?

NB: The third place team was a social media app that focuses on positivity. You see all the negative things on the news and they wanted to change that. The app is, you create a circle with your friends. You log in and you post complimentary or positive messages and everyone in your group can see those messages.

The second place team… there idea was a painless way to remove splinters. So what you do is, you get a splinter, put the bandage on and pour water on the bandage. And in an hour or two it swells your skin a little and when you pull the bandage off it comes right off.

BOS: Is that possible?

NB: They heard about the chemical that could possibly do this in their AP biology class and they did some research on it and developed the idea.

The first place team, their idea was a smart tampon. It has a weight sensor and RFID chip in the device so when the tampon gets saturated it triggers the weight sensor. The RFID sends a signal to your phone which alerts you to change it. And the whole process is to avoid embarrassing moments and toxic shock syndrome.

BOS: Overall, can you talk about how creating this competition and blue ocean strategy has changed your perception of business and life?

NB: We did a lot of marketing for the event, it taught me how to sale which an important skill to have. It also exposed me to operations and a lot of different aspects of business. And it’s defiantly shown me that even as a high school student, I can make a difference.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also be interested to learn about Howard County Blue Ocean Competition.