n 25 January, teams of high school students gathered in the KPMG Prague offices to take part in the final of Soutěž a Podnikej. For the second year, ECCEDU gifted a full scholarship to its summer program as a prize for the runner-up. We sat down for a chat with Martin Vítek, co-leader of the project.
Can you start by telling me a little bit about Soutez a Podnikej? From what I understood it’s high school students that have some sort of business idea for their community.
Martin Vítek: You got it right: it’s a high school programme, a competition where high school students can submit any ideas they want and we teach them what the steps to make that idea happen are. They first submit their business ideas in September and in December they present their projects in front of judges in the regional finals.; there are six of those and they take place all around the Czech Republic. During the programme, they learn to research, to validate their idea, to get a prototype, validate the prototype, build a business plan, and give a presentation. In the end, they can start going and do anything: they can start earning some money if they want to or sell their idea to someone, get in an internship with the judges, at their firms. They can make big impressions, build up their resume, and go forward.
So do you think that there is one the thing that the participants - is it 9 of them? - do you think that they have anything in common, the people that made it the final?
MV: It’s not that much about whether they have a good or a bad idea because that’s hard to justify. I think that they are all hardworking, responsible and they want to get stuff done, and those are the three traits they have in common. It’s not about intelligence, it’s not about how much money you have. If you have these traits, if you work hard on your project, like your project, and want to get stuff done; if you are responsible with your time; if you do the things that you say you’re going to do, then you can achieve anything. I think people who made it to the finals, the regional ones or here, they all have these traits and they already have something to be proud of.
So you said that there is a subjective element to deciding whether it’s a good or bad idea…
MV: You don’t judge whether it’s a good or bad idea. We have a judging sheet, where you attribute points, so it’s pretty objective. Of course, you could set up a benchmark of what is good or bad, but these judges are extremely experienced people. They can already feel that they know the nuances; is this project feasible? Is this budget done right? How was the presentation? You can see these things. So it’s based on that, that the judges decide who wins and who doesn’t…
Talking about the judges, how do you choose them? Or what makes a good judge?
MV: A good judge should have some experience, they should have run their own business, or be the CEO of a company or in a high-ranking position. They should also have a lot of responsibility, and they should have started their own project at least once, so they know how it feels in the beginning. And then, they should like to give back to the community, because they all started somewhere and that’s what the students want to do too. Usually, we don't have an issue finding experienced judges anywhere in the country, which is nice.
How did Tomáš come to be a judge in your competition? Did you know him from before or…?
MV: I can’t remember if I found out about Tomáš online or if someone told me about him. Either way, I had a meeting with him, and he liked our project, and we liked what he does, so last year he donated two scholarships to this program and to our alumni. He liked the alumni and how they went about the programme, so when I asked him if he wanted to be a judge, he agreed. This year again he’s donated two scholarships. The first prize for the competition is a trip to Chicago and the second prize is an ECCEDU scholarship. For the second ECCEDU scholarship, we’re going to give a chance to everybody; they’ll first make a motivation video about why we should choose them and then we’ll decide… So that one is still open.
Talking about that prize, why did you establish this partnership with Tomáš’s ECCEDU?
MV: I like that he’s bringing people who have a lot of experience to talk to people who don’t have much. He gives them a chance to actually establish a connection with these people, who would be very hard to reach otherwise… But if you go and become a part of this education summer programme, they’re already in front of you; the only thing you have to do is to get up and go talk to them. He does the hard work for you by bringing that person into the room. The speakers also share their own tips, which are really hard to get anywhere else. That’s why I like the programme and am excited that the kids can join it.
Do you think there’s an alignment in values or vision between what you’re doing and what Tomáš is doing?
MV: I think that there’s an alignment in the sense that we both want to serve the people who want to be served; we want to provide opportunities to gain experience, to motivate students to achieve higher and bigger things. A ‘to the moon’ kind of thing. That’s the alignment because otherwise, Tomáš works with university students from all over the world but we are focussed on high school students in the Czech Republic. So I don’t know if I would call it values, but the goal is to provide opportunities for people who don’t know where to look for them; opportunities to meet people and learn from other sources than the internet or teachers.
You mentioned that you went abroad to the United States for high school and that the first prize is a business trip to Chicago…
MV: I went to high school in Wisconsin, then I came back, finished high school over here, then I went to study at the university in Chicago for three years. That’s why the winner goes to Chicago because I have the most connections there. And my girlfriend is from Chicago, so she’s taking care of the students over there.
I see… And what do you think are the main benefits for the person who gets the second prize?
MV: The two students that attended the program last year most benefited from the lectures. Then they found someone to employ them for a paid internship; their employer had never had an online shop and he asked them to set it up. Neither of these two students knew how to do it, but they learnt, and in a month they had set up an online shop that was live and that people were buying from. From this ECCEDU scholarship, they didn’t only get theoretical knowledge but also practical experience: they learnt how to create an e-shop! Who’s going to teach you that for free and pay you for it? So that’s the most obvious benefit: they can learn something new. They might have never even thought that this industry could exist, but they managed to get both theoretical knowledge and practical experience and skills out of it.
So it’s almost a continuation of what they’ve done so far?
MV: It’s never-ending learning; they have the opportunity to learn and maybe find something new that they want to do. They’re still young and they have so many options; it’s only a matter of introducing them to these possibilities in an effective way. To go beyond: ‘I learnt online’ or ‘I watched youtube’.
And they seem to be the kind of people that would benefit from that because they’ve made it so far…
MV: Yes, they’ve put work into it.
Exactly. Our time’s run out, but I’m curious: do you know how you’d like to develop Soutěž a Podnikej further?
MV: First of all, we have to find a better name, one that can be pronounced in any language, so perhaps in English. Then, we want to improve this programme starting here and now, with today’s event. We collect feedback all the time, so there’s already a few things that we want to improve on: methodology, videos, the mentorship system, and the like... to have an even bigger impact on the competitors as well as the mentors. But our biggest goal is to license the programme in different countries, starting with Slovakia. We’re also in talks with Kosovo and Albania, maybe Romania, so we will be launching the programme in one of these four countries. Our major goal, however, is to have a European final and an American final and then a ‘super competition’ between those two winning teams. That’s our main goal... ‘Aim for the moon’.