In the European Innovation Academy, the students had three weeks to sharpen their skills of getting into business.

MashWithMe was acknowledged as the best start-up company whose application helps people interested in music to find inspiration for creating and playing music.


The European Innovation Academy (EIA) held in the South of France in the European biggest, Sophia-Antipolis Technology Park in July was attended by 300 students all over the world, including more than 60 students from Estonia. The IT Academy programme of the Information Technology Foundation for Education supported the participation of students from the specialties of information and communication technology; Estonian higher educational institutions teaching IT specialties were represented in the academy.

 



The program manager of IT Academy, Marily Hendrikson, took part of the Innovation Academy’s work during its second week by the end of which the participants had to prepare a prototype based on the IT solutions of business ideas. “I wanted to see the IT students during their most intensive work period. They were happy and had a spark in their eyes because they found many people with interests similar to theirs”, said Marily Hendrikson.

The first European Innovation Academy was held in 2012, and its original idea comes from Tallinn University of Technology. Since 2014, the Academy operates independently in France. The whole idea of the activity is for young people to get a global experience as realistic as possible in starting a business in an international environment: during three weeks, innovative IT products and services are created under the supervision of international experts. The teams come up with their own start-up idea, they prepare the prototype of the product, find real customers and even generate turnover. Business models are assessed by a committee of business investors. The committee shall select three best teams, but eventually only one team will receive a financial support for the further development of their business.

 


„Most of the students came from US, from the University of Berkeley, California, which is one of the three best universities in the world with regard to the education of engineering and technology. It is nice that the Innovation Academy was able to build a comprehensive cooperation with this university and the students of our higher educational institutions could compete with the students from top universities. The second biggest number of students came from Estonia. We were differentiated from others by our strong IT skills”, said Marily Hendrikson.


What is the purpose of the three weeks during which the 300 students from all over the world stay together?

“It is an extremely intensive and live rehearsal of the creation of a new enterprise. During the first week, the task of the students is to find a business idea that would solve a specific problem of a specific target group, and that would be globally extendable and ambitious. They themselves form teams by searching suitable partners from 300 students. The development of ideas takes place in parallel with lectures; the students are instructed by mentors.

During the second week, one part of the team is focused on the business idea, marketing and communication, and the other part is focused on building the IT solution. By the end of the second week, an IT solution (e.g. webpage) usable by the client must be ready and used in sales work: Click here to buy this; See here to get information about that etc. IT solution facilitates the sales work for prospects and enables to get a faster confirmation of the operation of the business idea. By the end of the Innovation Academy, the top performers were invited to the judges of venture capitalists who selected the winners and gave out the money. Two teams out of the three best performing teams also included Estonians: the scholarship recipients of IT Academy, Mait Mikkelsaar and Murdho Savila.




The entire process was instructed by approximately 25 business and IT mentors from all over the world. The business mentors had a diverse experience in building technology companies, and the IT mentors had high level IT skills. There were also several mentors from Estonia, for example the business innovation manager of SEB Baltics, Mart Maasik, and one of the creators of Mooncascade OÜ, Priit Salumaa. Through the communication of IT Academy, the lecturer of Tallinn University of Technology, Roger Kerse, and the doctoral student of the University of Tartu, Konstantin Tretjakov also acted as IT mentors.”


What were the created companies like? Were there some that wanted to start building excavators?

“The best result still came from a company with the best global ability. This is possible mainly if you have a service or a product accessible via Internet. There were also ideas with IT component but with a so called physical solution. For example, the best company of the second week was a company that placed sensors into alpine ski boots. A person interested in alpine skiing must first learn how to ski, but it is very expensive to hire an instructor. When the sensors are in the boots, they will guide you how to move when the skis are in a certain position.”


 


As a whole, the three best start-ups and teams were:

The winner and also the owner of 10 000 Euros was a start-up company named MashWithMe; the members of the team were Sparsh Mehta, Harsh Shah, Mait Mikkelsaar, Priyesh Rawal, and Rauno Viskus.

II place – DXTR; the members of the team were Vasco Caetano, Sara Carmali, Loic De Waele, Kenneth Madsen, Jile (Anjile) An, and Clara Beate Malm.

III place – BLOCKS; the members of the team were Edam Lee, Serge Vasylechko, Xueyan Zhao, and Murdho Savila.


The three best teams were selected according to the fact that they had working prototypes, and their business ideas were unique, strong and scalable. MashWithMe also presented a very good profit model.


 

Over 60 Estonian students took part in the European Innovation Academy. Photo: Evelyn Saks.


Opinions from participants

Mait Mikkelsaar, a recent alumnus of the curriculum of computer science at Tallinn University of Technology, and the scholarship recipient of IT Academy in EIA:

Our team started working with the purpose of changing (at least a little bit) the lives of musicians all over the world. During the first week, by making market analyses and getting to know the competitors, we decided to change our course in several areas. This is how we ended up with MashWithMe. MWM is intended for all music lovers for finding and storing inspiration and also for composing and presenting music.

To my opinion, the most valuable thing in taking part of the Innovation Academy is the inspiration that I got from talking to different participants and mentors who shared their advice and experiences, both successes and failures. Also, I gained knowledge about how to get an approval for the product from customers and how to attract investors to my company. Additional information about the start-up http://www.mashwith.me/


Murdho Savila, the student of the curriculum of IT systems development at IT College, and the scholarship recipient of IT Academy in EIA:

I took part in the European Innovation Academy in the team called BLOCKS. We have an international team: two students are from London (Imperial College), two are Chinese, one of whom is studying in the University of Berkeley, California, and the other one in the University of Fudan, Shanghai, and I, an Estonian student from IT College.

BLOCKS is a modular smartwatch, and as a start-up, BLOCKS is ambitious, because it is competing with the top performers in the world of technology (Apple, Google, Samsung etc.). Since it is a physical device, we were mainly focused on the business and software aspects in the academy, and we made use of the access to experienced mentors in both areas. For the BLOCKS team, the participation in the European Innovation Academy was very valuable, because we got advice from the mentors on how to create customer relations when the product is still in the phase of prototype, and what should be considered in order for the product to become a reality against all odds. Thanks to a good cooperation and with the advice of the mentors, we were able to become one of the three best teams.

I will take part of the activities of BLOCKS also after the end of the European Innovation Academy. Additional information about BLOCKS can be found on the http://www.chooseblocks.com website.

The participation in the European Innovation Academy gave me a strong push to continue working with my own projects, start-ups. I met several people with ideas similar to mine, and the communication with them gave me courage and confidence. Lectures were held by experienced entrepreneurs who also mentored us. I was also confirmed that I am on the right track for realizing my dreams.
I am truly thankful to the IT Academy for the opportunity to take part in the European Innovation Academy.

The photos of the works of the teams in the European Innovation Academy in July 2014 in France were taken by Marily Hendrikson.

If you are interested in the information about the next year’s European Innovation Academy, see here.