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Pitching 'outrageous' business ideas

By Peter Walker for CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- As business pitches go, it's certainly unorthodox. Two young women, dressed in what are clearly hastily home-made bridal outfits, stand in a corner of an elevator and talk to a video camera.

One speaks at length about how much she learned planning her wedding, while the other laments the amount she still has to do before her own big day.

Then, with a flourish, they pretend to tap on computer keyboards and simultaneously 'discover' a new Web site, Brideboard, "where brides advise brides."

Welcome to Columbia Business School's annual Outrageous Business Plan Competition.

This event allows the school's MBA students to pitch slightly more unorthodox or untested ideas before a panel of top businesspeople and venture capitalists. As one student says of his own idea: "It may be outrageous but it's not crazy."

This year's contest began with a series of two-minute mini pitches. These are all delivered to a single video camera by the individuals or teams themselves, all standing in the same place -- the somewhat unglamorous location of the corner of a stationary elevator.

Mixed approach

A near-hour long compilation of all the pitches can be viewed on the school's website (click hereexternal link -- video file) and offers an illuminating insight into both the sheer variety and imagination of the ideas, and the extremely different ways in which they are presented.

Some are clearly well-rehearsed -- in a similar vein to Brideboard, one team offers up a quick but heartfelt dramatic vignette in which a couple who forget about an imminent social event are saved from their disaster by their son, who tells them about "bpampered," a Web site that sends hairdressers, beauticians and the like to your own home.

One of three eventual third-place winners, KidsLunch.com, not only have a warning slogan -- "are your kids packing on the pounds?" -- but end up throwing items of junk food around the elevator as they try to market their healthy school lunch delivery service.

Others are more prosaic in approach: Some pitches involve a single participant clutching a sheaf of notes and mumbling their spiel to the camera -- in one case, speeding up noticeably towards the end to beat the two-minute time limit.

Likewise, the ideas themselves vary greatly, everything from technical sounding business-to-business ideas to the more clearly unorthodox, such as another third-place winner, a designer clothes range purely for online communities such as Second Life.

The top prize and formal title of Most Outrageous Business Venture -- along with a $6,000 prize -- went to MBA student Michael Dwork for GreenWare, a line of disposable plates, cups and bowls that are organic and biodegradable.

Second place, and $5,000, went another single-person team, Brandon Kessler and his submission, ChallengePost, a Web site which aims to solve problems using co-operation and group action shaped by market imperatives.

"We are very pleased to recognize this year's winners," said Glenn Hubbard, Dean of Columbia Business School.

"Bold, original, and thoughtful, this year's entries demonstrated the kind of entrepreneurial thinking that we seek to cultivate in all of our students."

The contest, hosted by the school's Entrepreneurship Program and the Columbia Entrepreneurs Organization, is now in its eight year.

Unusual ideas from previous years include Gifts From the Grave, which allows consumes to continue to give gifts to loved ones after they have died, and Misfortunes, a company selling broken fortune cookies containing messages of ill-luck.


story.lunch.jpg

One team pitched a delivery sevice for healthy school meals.

FACT BOX

FT MBA Rankings
1. Wharton, U.S.
2. Columbia, U.S.
3. Harvard, U.S.
4. Stanford GSB, U.S.
5. London Business School, UK
6. Chicago GSB, U.S.
7. Insead, France/Singapore
8. Stern, NYU, U.S.
9. Tuck, Dartmouth, U.S.
10. Yale, U.S.
Source: Financial Times 2007

FACT BOX

MBA BASICS

The classic MBA is a two-year full-time program. Accelerated and distance learning MBAs are increasingly popular.

A typical MBA student has several years' work experience and is in their late 20s.

Those who take an Executive MBA, or EMBA, tend to be older, more senior managers.

Courses are expensive, but the rewards are high -- some new MBAs now get a $100,000 basic salary, according to a survey.
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