Discussing Innovation with Bob Dorf

In November we announced the winners of YBI’s second Innovation Challenge. In this interview, Bob Dorf, Lean Innovation and Customer Development expert, shares his reflections on coaching participants through the process.

Why launch an Innovation Challenge?

For Youth Business International (YBI) an Innovation Challenge is a great opportunity to push leaders across the network out of their comfort zone. It challenges them to think differently about their business and how to make it better. It also helps leaders become more creative, better coaches and it teaches them to think like the innovators they mentor and encourage in their own organisations. The ultimate goal of YBI’s Innovation Challenge is to uncover a valuable product or service that can be shared across the whole network, benefiting everyone.

How did the 2019 Innovation Challenge work in practice?

The Innovation Challenge was open to all YBI members. Of the 18 members who submitted an expression of interest, 11 were shortlisted and supported to evolve their business idea. At the end of an intense process where finalists worked hard to refine their applications, the judges selected two winners: ICCO Uganda and Qredits. The winners were awarded a total of $80,000 and tailored support from me.

How did you take on board learning from last year’s Innovation Challenge?

We worked hard to incorporate learning from last year’s inaugural Challenge:

  • We shifted the weight of member voting from 50% to 30%, giving the expert panel more Influence on the selection process. This was to avoid the ‘bright shiny thing phenomenon’, where the smartest looking programmes get more votes even though they’re not necessarily sustainable or scalable.
  • We decided to look more closely at the composition of the teams dedicated to the projects. We wanted most of the people involved to be part of the organisations, not third-party developers, to ensure that the learning was institutionalised.
  • Finally, we changed the process between announcing the finalists and selecting the winners. This year I did a 90-minute in-depth interview with each of the finalists and then compiled a summary report for the judges. This meant the judges were already familiar with the project details and had richer interview conversations with the finalists.

Was it difficult to select the winners? What really stood out about them?

This year we had fantastic group of finalists. It’s been a real race to the finish, but very exciting.  With a new entrepreneurship training programme tailored for the Caribbean, Qredits’ idea is disruptive in the way that it breaks down entrepreneurship into its smallest components. It starts from the beginning by teaching entrepreneurship skills to young people rather than developing new business models. Meanwhile, ICCO Uganda’s new credit assessment tool will link young, high-potential agripreneurs to affordable agricultural loans.

What happens next for the two winners?

A ton of hard work. Qredits are currently working on a minimum viable product and a pilot to get feedback on what needs improving. They’re flying to the Seychelles to see how students interact with the modules, interview students and measure the outcomes of the programme. ICCO Uganda has already identified 75 agripreneurs and begun meeting with them using a paper version of the digital tool they’re developing so that the bank lending officer has some real-world experience to start processing the loans. They’re also gathering feedback before starting to build the software version. As you can see, the prize is only the beginning! I will catch up with the winners every two weeks to track their progress and provide guidance.

How else do you think we could foster innovation across the YBI network?

There’s a lot of innovation happening at YBI already. It would be great to recognize and reward these innovations with perhaps more, but smaller prizes. And I if had to be very ambitious, a week-long, intensive incubator for all the winners would be very valuable.

We are delighted that you’ll be joining YBI’s Global Masterclass in June – what are you most looking forward to?

I’m most looking forward to finally meeting the many friends across the YBI network that I’ve been working with over the past 4 years. I’m also excited to be running a workshop on coaching and a session on key trends and developments in the entrepreneurship space.

YBI’s 2020 Masterclass will take place 2-5 June in Barcelona. It will be a week of insightful discussions around key themes such as entrepreneurship and soft skills training, mentoring and innovation. Registration will open at the end of January, so check back in to book your place!

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