Keeping the Spirit of Innovation Alive in a Pandemic

Jonathan Chu & Crystal Cha | MBA Class of 2021 & Alumni Class of 2018 and Marketing Manager | Student Experience

On December 10, 2020, eight fearless teams made their way through ASB’s first-ever digital “Law of the Jungle” – the entrepreneurial event of the year during which ASB students showcase new products and services they have developed over the semester. This event marks the culmination of the students’ fifth and final Action Learning trek, where they put their learning into action as part of ASB’s full-time MBA program.

Fun fact: Why the name “Law of the Jungle”? At ASB, Professors Charles Fine and Loredana Padurean teach the Nail It, Scale It, and Sail It framework outlining what companies required to succeed at different stages of growth. For start-ups, it’s all about nailing the basics and hacking your way through an untamed jungle – and that is exactly what our students learned and are showcasing during this semester!

“Law of the Jungle” was a true testament to the ASB spirit, with 32 ASB MBA students, working across 4 continents from 15 countries taking part in this LIVE event.

The eight teams who faced the scrutiny of the Jungle Chieftains (aka judges) included:

  • Chorak – Reimagining Malaysian cultural patterns through batik-centric lifestyle products that invoke national pride and heritage
  • MediBook – A mobile app that allows you to store and share your medical records anytime, anywhere
  • Vietphin – Building an authentic Vietnamese coffee experience in Malaysia
  • Puzzle Peace – A jigsaw puzzle membership service for stressed-out adults, designed with sustainability, connection and ergonomic comfort in mind
  • Mancealer – Developing an all-in-one tinted moisturizer with natural looking coverage for Asian men
  • BlindIn.co – Solving unemployment for blind and visually impaired people
  • Katha – An interactive app for connecting grandparents with grandchildren through story-telling
  • CORONAVital – Identifying a pocket-sized multi-functional lifestyle accessory (ProteKit) to help individuals decrease contact transmission of microbes

 

Collaborating across time zones and continents

Working across time zones and not having the ability to collaborate, prototype, and brainstorm in the same location was one of the biggest challenges the students faced along the path to Law of the Jungle.

“Action learning is a group effort, and ideas come when every team member is present and contributing. Working across time zones definitely put pressure on the team,” said Hrishi Eathakota from Team Katha. “However, we were really committed to the project, and found creative ways of communicating ideas through the use of online whiteboarding tools like Miro,” he added.

Showcasing how the students were taking the challenges in their stride, Amjed Ali from Team BlindIn.co added, “One challenge of working completely online and across countries is that there is no separation between work and non-work hours. It’s good practice in preparing for the new normal and finding new ways of balancing work and life.”

Despite the challenges, it was clear that the students took away concrete learnings and tried-and-tested entrepreneurial frameworks including those used by the world’s leading design firms. As Abhiram Keremane from Team Katha explained, “We learned ways to brainstorm and build on each other’s ideas. We used some of the methods used by IDEO, especially in the ideation phase, which required coming up with ideas, building on each other’s ideas, and talking to potential customers across the globe to quickly validate our hypotheses.”

“To innovate, we had to first nail the problem down. This required defining our users and customer persona and understanding what problems they are facing. To do this, we applied tools we were taught during the semester, such as design thinking and consumer behavior analysis. When pitching our project, we also kept in mind the ‘Ethos-Pathos-Logos’ framework and aimed to engage with the audience on three levels: Ethos = Authority, Logos = Logical Argument, and Pathos = Emotions,” said Franco Bravard from Team Katha.

 

Wowing the judges with their pitching skills

During the event, an impressive line-up of judges reviewed and critiqued the students’ pitches. Said Hisyam Hassim from team CORONAVital, “Presenting four months of work in eight minutes was certainly challenging – keeping things concise was part of the education. It was definitely intimidating, but at the same time extremely rewarding to have angel investors and successful entrepreneurs alike provide feedback to our project.”

The students’ efforts paid off – the judges were certainly impressed. One of the judges, Francesca Chia, CEO And Co-Founder of GoGet, said “If this is the product of ASB teaching, each team has learnt great storytelling skills!”

Meanwhile, Alan Lim, President of Malaysian Business Angels Network, said, “As an angel investor, I feel the teams really stand up compared to real-world pitching. In addition to that, they are very well prepared to answer questions with their back-up slides. Congrats to the ASB teams on the good job done!”

“The students’ pitches were well thought through, succinct and impactful,” added angel investor and NEXEA mentor Looi Kok Loon.

Thinesh Kumar, founder and CEO of Lapasar, agreed with the other judges. “Their pitching and storytelling abilities could actually raise money in the real world,” he enthused. “I learnt a lot from the MBA students today!”

Other judges that joined the formidable judging panel included Lavinie Thiruchelvam, Co-Founder and Director of Babydash.com.my and Peter Wee, NEXEA mentor.

 

Connecting grandparents with grandchildren

The judges cast their votes, the results were tallied, and the result? A tie for kings of the jungle!

The overall winners, as chosen by our Jungle Chieftain judges, were Teams Katha and BlindIn.co.

Team Katha won the crowd over with a heartfelt story told by team mate Hrishi of the close relationship shared by his son, Natty, and Natty’s grandfather, Bhanu. During Covid-19, Natty and Bhanu were no longer able to enjoy regular visits to see each other in person, but wanted to spend time together even while being apart. That’s when the members of Team Katha came up with the idea of creating a storytelling platform that would allow grandparents to digitally connect with their grandchildren through the medium of stories.

Said Hrishi Eathakota from Team Katha, “Winning both the judges and popular vote has been a confidence booster and much-needed validation for our idea. The Action Learning experience has been a great way to test ideas in the safety of a school, and feedback from faculty, judges, and fellow classmates have been very helpful in this journey.”

“Moving forwards, drawing on the lessons learnt from the “Nail It, Scale It, Sail It” framework taught by Prof. Loredana, we are in the process of nailing the product and launching the app on the App Store and Google Play store. we received a lot of validation for our idea, with many people telling us that such an app is needed for users across different demographics. But execution is key. We want to nail this product first for the Indian market before releasing it in different markets,” he added.

 

Creating equal opportunities for blind people

Meanwhile, Team BlindIn.co also captured the hearts of the audience and judges through their job-matching platform designed specifically for the world’s 42 million-strong population of blind people. The platform aims to reduce the 70% unemployment rate in this under-tapped segment of the population, by allowing blind job candidates to showcase their skills and capabilities to prospective employers through a video-based platform that employs AI technology including Microsoft Azure Cognitive Services (for speech-to-text services and key word/phrase extraction) and machine learning (for curated recommendations).

Said BlindIn.co team member Ilham Bazi, “I am incredibly happy and proud that our project to solve the challenges faced by the blind and visually impaired community won not only the Microsoft Hackathon but also Law of the Jungle. It was an amazing experience and validation that we are heading in the right direction. We are so excited about this project and making an impact on this community!”

In addition to Team BlindIn.co and Team Katha, the Mancealer Team won the Crowd Favorite Award and came in at 2nd place for the Judges’ Choice for making skincare products more versatile and appealing to Asian men.

 

Impact beyond the classroom

The projects culminated in one of the teams (BlindIn.co) receiving a double validation and also being crowned the Malaysia winners at the prestigious Microsoft AI for Accessibility APAC Hackathon.

 

Said Vy Nguyen, who was not part of the original BlindIn.co team but who joined the team for the Microsoft hackathon, “We’re thrilled that we could utilize cognitive services and machine learning to develop a solution that allows blind and visually impaired individuals to showcase their skills and potential to employers. This journey wouldn’t have been complete without my amazing teammates, who all believe that we need to make a change in this world that was not designed for the blind.”

Summing up the Law of the Jungle and Action Learning Trek experience, Prof. Loredana Padurean, who taught this course, said:

“At ASB, we take pride in learning in action, on working hand in hand, minds to minds and hearts to hearts with our partners all around the world. Once again, in 2020 we have been globally recognized as one of the most impactful b-school innovations of the decade, ranking Number 5 in Poets & Quants’ Top 10 Most Innovative MBA programs in the world just a year after we received the MBA Roundtable Innovation Award for our leadership in initiating and achieving curricular reform through its use of Action Learning.”

“I am so proud of the effort the MBA Class of 2021 students put into their projects, creating real-world impact and giving students the exposure needed to prepare for their next career move. The judges’ feedback at Law of the Jungle certainly validated what we have been teaching, as well as the students’ own commitment and dedication towards making excellence the baseline,” she added.