Award-winners get their (digital) messages across
Accenture says the winning entry was not just a good technology solution but a good business idea as well
Accenture and its Leaders of Tomorrow (from left): Nubi Kay, Mark Ryan, country managing director Accenture, and Alex Keaney. Photograph: Shane O’Neill/Fennell Photography
A new smartphone app that will streamline the various text and messaging services on a phone into one unified feed has won UCD Smurfit School students Nubi Kay and Alex Keaney the 2014 Accenture Leaders of Tomorrow Award. Now in its seventh year, the award is aimed at finding and developing the leadership talent in the current generation of third-level students in Ireland.
The duo were given the option of a trip to one of Accenture’s Digital Innovation Centres in the US along with internships with Accenture, or exploring their business idea through a space in the National Digital Research Centre (NDRC) Launchpad programme for digital start-ups.
Keaney and Kay met while studying on the iBusiness – Innovation through ICT course at the Smurfit School and the OnePlace app idea came about as a result of their decision to enter the Leaders of Tomorrow competition. “We were both doing the iBusiness programme and we already had a few ideas and we settled on this one for the competition,” says Kay.
“We looked at the criteria for the competition and this year it was all about digital business ideas,” Keaney recalls. “We spent about two weeks last November looking at ideas and we identified this problem and came up with the solution.”
The problem was the number of different messaging feeds people have on their phones and the difficulties they have in sorting them. “OnePlace allows you to send and receive messages through any app on a contact by contact basis and to see all the conversations with those contacts in one place,” Keaney explains.
The pair did some early stage research among fellow students and lecturers and got a good reaction. “Nubi had contacts around the world who he got in touch with and they were also very encouraging,” Keaney adds. “We found that there would be good demand for it. We are now developing the business model for it on the basis of the feedback we got from the judges.”
They have decided to take the option of taking the space on the NDRC Launchpad programme. “That’s a really great opportunity for us and we should give it a shot – why not?” says Kay.
“I see that as a sort of no-brainer”, Keaney agrees. “They have a turn-away rate of around 95 per cent and we would be stupid to pass up an opportunity like that.”
Accenture Ireland country managing director Mark Ryan explains that the move to a digital business theme this year is a natural result of the evolutionary process which has seen the Leaders of Tomorrow competition change in different ways over the years.
“Each year we look for feedback from all of the finalists and use that to make tweaks to the competition,” he says. “Two years ago every single one of the finalists had a smartphone app business idea. That wasn’t because of anything we did, it was just the way things worked out. This year we asked the students to come up with digital business ideas which could be in different areas such as social responsibility, goods and services, health or payments.”
Another change is the addition of the NDRC as a partner in the competition. “Previously the winners had to option of taking their idea and seeing if they could do something with it during their internship with us but now with NDRC involved, they can bring their idea to them and the help they need to bring it to market.”
The overall quality of entry was outstanding again this year, according to Ryan. “The judges were amazed by the quality of the entries, they were excellent. When you’re sitting there during the presentations, you have to pinch yourself from time to time just to remember how very young these people are. The confidence, the entrepreneurial flair they exhibit, the maturity – it’s just amazing.”
He points out that the winning entry was not just a good technology solution but a good business idea as well.
“It’s a very good idea and people have thought of similar things but nobody has thought about it on this scale before. It’s a really good business idea as well and they were able to present us with a very strong business model where they had looked at potential markets, assessed the competition and had looked at routes to revenue and profitability as well.”
Just taking part in the competition is a good idea in itself, say Kay and Keaney.
“I would definitely recommend it,” Keaney adds. “All of the finalists got great value out of the process. The development days were particularly good. Even if you don’t win, you get great value. I always wanted to start my own business and competitions like this help give you the confidence to go out and do it.”
“It’s been an amazing journey and I wasn’t quite sure we’d get this far,” adds Kay. “I’ve met interesting people – fellow competitors, Accenture and NDRC. I was exposed to a new way of start-up thinking that focused on quick idea validation from prospective customers, while honing my presentation, communication,and leadership skills during the development days.”
Ryan is already looking forward to next year’s competition. “When we started out on this journey seven years ago a large part of it was to help with our own graduate recruitment in Accenture. But then we started thinking about leveraging it to promote entrepreneurship as a means of contributing to the economy and now we have moved onto the digital business space. We will tweak the competition again next year in response to the feedback from this year’s finalists. It’s a very exciting process and it will be interesting to see how the 2015 competition turns out.”