The 2017 Great Ideas Competition featured four guest judges who have had success in business and entrepreneurship. Ke Alaka‘i staff had the opportunity to have a private interview with each of them to ask them what makes an idea great and tips for entrepreneurs.
The judges were: Jason “Jay” Bliss, a diverse angel investor and founder of healthcare companies; Clarke Miyasaki, executive vice president of business development for Stance Socks; Jean Brown, founder of Jean Brown Research; and Ricky Ray Butler, founder of Plaid Social Labs and current VP or Corbis.
Q: What makes an idea great?
Bliss: “It has to be something that is going to change lives.”
He said he has been a part of many companies that have made a lot of money “but I did not feel like they had the ability to captivate people towards change. I only invest in businesses that can improve the lives of the customer and those who engage them.”
Miyasaki: “Great ideas are ones that are simple. One of the things I kept telling the students in the Great Ideas competition is don't try to boil the whole ocean. The best ideas are the most simple ones that solve a problem in a way that no one has thought of yet.”
Brown: “It just comes down to how much they love their idea and how passionate they are about the idea. The ones that really impressed me are the ones that were actually selling it, or teaching it. There were a handful of those. That’s how I knew they did their homework.”
A former entrepreneur in residence at BYU-Hawaii, she spoke highly of the finalists in the competition this year. “You have international students that do a fabulous job with the language barrier. I could never do it as well as they do. You also have students that have a million things to do and some were willing to do their homework.
Butler: “I thought there were a couple ideas that were groundbreaking.
“They were well thought out. They did a lot of research on their competitors and found what the true opportunity really is. They did a great job. I was here a couple years ago and I can say a lot has improved. A lot of the ideas were really strong this year with the students.”
What advice do you have for BYUH students and entrepreneurs?
Bliss: “My biggest contributor in my life, to all my successes … is the fact I chose the best partner ever and that is my spouse. She is my equal in everything. She’s been my biggest champion, so pick wisely. If you are going to pick wisely about a partner, pick a good spouse.”
Miyasaki: “I love the concept of ‘nail it and scale it.’ Great ideas can become actual products by nailing something simple ... proving that it works in a small subset or group and then going out, raising the money, and turning it into what you really want. That’s the best way to go from a great idea into something real.”
Brown: “This is the advice you won’t expect, but it’s the advice I will give. I think there's a plan for people, something they need to accomplish and they need to find it. They need to find their own vision of what it is they want to be, not what everyone else wants them to do or be.
“Find the vision. Ask God to help. Figure out your vision. Map it out and work like crazy for it. Write it down. Put it in front of you and have it in front of you all the time. Even if it is years before you accomplish it. I believe you really need to figure out what you are meant to do, and God will help you to do that. Every time I thought I could do it on my own I was cut to my knees.”
Butler: “I would also suggest surrounding yourself with people who balance out your weaknesses. A lot of people, when starting a business, might assume you have to focus on your strengths, but where I have had success is when I’ve focused on my weaknesses.
“I knew exactly what I couldn’t do. Once I finally swallowed my pride and realized I couldn’t do this on my own and allowed other people to fill in those gaps, my business really started growing. Once I built up a team, my business exploded and became the biggest company in the world, helping brands work with online celebrities and influencers.”