Interview with team Ribonostics Yemi Fenuyi from University of Exeter
· Why did you enter the Microsoft Imagine Cup
I think there’s a long answer and a short answer, but the long answer is definitely more interesting. In first year, I could only envision myself with one foreseeable future; medicine. Essentially, I had a one track mind, with just one goal in sight and not too many thoughts about anything else. But along my journey through university, I’ve begun to realise that science isn’t limited to just black and white, and in doing so, I’ve started to explore medicine, science and technology, together as different wavelengths within a spectrum, and as soon as I started thinking this way, I began to make different moves. Over the summer, I had the opportunity to work on a world changing idea and met some great people along the way. During this time, I had the opportunity to hear from some of the world’s most innovative scientists about how we, as young people, can make a difference in the world right now. Not only was the message inspiring, but I was also captivated by how it was delivered. The pitch was amazing! So while everybody else was just listening, I was taking notes; notes on what these people were doing, how they were doing it and how they were telling their story. In essence, I was already working on my pitching formula, and this happened to be one of the most pivotal points in my transition from just a student, to something different, although I’m not sure exactly what that is yet, but life is definitely more exciting. A couple months later, one of my good friends recommended I enter a pitching competition run by the entrepreneur society, which was also sponsored by Microsoft. It was really the first time where my pitching skills could actually be tested, which was a little nerve racking, but since I was representing about an idea that I was passionate about, I felt like I could just be myself. In turn, I think that the audience and the judges were able to share my perspective, because it actually came from a genuine place. I had a good idea, I had the pitch, and after winning that competition, I now had the confidence, so I decided to see how far I could go if I kept pushing myself beyond my known capabilities. And so I entered the imagine cup because I thought it would be the best place for me to challenge myself as well as introduce Ribonostics to a larger audience on the global scale.
· Your experience of attending the UK National Final.
The UK national final was a crazy day. I actually had to go on a treasure hunt for presentation materials that I could use for a live demonstration. I walked into the pitch mentoring session, full of confidence, but as soon as I started, my mentor immediately stopped me, and told me to change the beginning. This was definitely a shock, but essentially, he gave me the final piece that was missing from the pitch; that being, an intimate audience connection from start to finish. I’m pretty sure I just found a room and disappeared for an hour, working on the pitch over and over until I thought it was perfect. Other than that, I was just doing things I usually do. Getting to know the other teams, making jokes, dancing in the lobby, you know, regular stuff. The whole thing was great.
· Why you recommend students to enter the Microsoft Imagine Cup
I’ve become somewhat of a motivational speaker this year, or so I’ve been told. I would say that you’ll never know what you’re capable of doing, until you actually do it. And in doing so, you either win, or you learn. It’s a really good opportunity to take yourself out of your comfort zone, and it helps you to start believing in ‘I’ as opposed to ‘they’, as in ‘I’ can be the one to do this, instead of “did you hear so and so did this”. That’s probably the best way I can explain it. The Microsoft imagine cup gives you that opportunity, and I can’t think of too many other competitions that are as big, that are doing the same thing for people our age.
· What enabled you to succeed in the competition even though you are from a non-technical background
Connections. Connections. Connections. Lucky for me, I’ve got a few friends who do computer science, business and economics. If I ever needed help with anything technical or otherwise, I could just ask for help. You can’t do everything on your own, and you learn much more by asking about things you don’t know about. I’ll ask for criticism to find out what I’m missing, and then and I’ll try and build on that criticism, that’s just how I am, and it’s probably a major part of why I was able to succeed.
· How to best assemble teams with a different skillset to deliver a technical project
As a mentioned before, it’s all about connections. If anything, it’s best to have people that you are actually friends with to help you out, because they’re the people who’d want you to succeed the most. I, personally, was lucky, in that I have great friends who are also on the same wavelength as me. It gets difficult when people aren’t as driven as you are, especially when you’re passionate about an idea. If you can find friends, or friends of friends who are tech savvy but are also free thinkers or entrepreneurs, I think that you can build a very successful team.
· Your expectations (did you expect to reach the UK National Final? Win the UK Final?)
In my experience, your thoughts become your things. From the time I was selected as a finalist, I thought I had a definitely great chance. I had to. If I don’t believe I should win, then why should anybody else. That being said, I actually was nervous, and it’s not like I was 100% sure or anything, but I came in thinking, “If I put in 100% into this I can win”, and in this instance I was fortunate enough to win.
· Your expectations going forward in the world semi-final.
It’s really the same answer as before. I think I’ve got a good chance and I really believe that the idea embodies the concept of the imagine cup, especially for the world citizenship category. It’s something that could have major implications worldwide over the next decade, so I feel like at the very least, it will be a tough decision.
· You experience of being mentored by Microsoft professionals
Yeah, my mentor was pretty cool. I can’t really imagine how the pitch would have gone if I’d done it exactly the way I originally had prepared it. It helped to remind me that I’m still learning, and that’s okay, because it helped to me to develop. Hopefully, I get to meet him again, and take a selfie (It was his suggestion!).
· Your experience of the Q&A session with the judges
For me, not having a technical background, I was happy to see that the Q&A was mostly based on other aspects of the idea. I’ve been involved with Ribonostics since June last year, so it was pretty easy for me to answer many of the questions since I’ve had so much time to think about it. One of the judges mentioned that they had completed a science related undergraduate degree, which was surprising, but it wasn’t too bad. All in all, I’d say it went pretty well, especially in comparison to what I thought they were going to ask.
· Your experience in regards to being exposed to Microsoft Ventures and XBOX
It’s interesting to think that I’ve only recently started within this world of start-ups and entrepreneurs, and I’ve already been put into an environment where
I can continue to be led in the right direction by experts at Microsoft. I’m looking forward to taking advantage of all the opportunities Microsoft ventures offer, and I intend to soak up every piece of knowledge that comes my way.
· Your experience in being left by your team member and still going forward with the project and winning the UK Final
It was difficult at first, but in the end, it all worked out for the best. I can’t really say it’s anybody’s fault. Being in 2 separate places, with 2 opposing time zones was always going to be hard, and I can appreciate that it’s not easy for us to both be focused on the same thing at the same time, if we’re not in the same place. That being said, my other team member will be back in the country very soon, and he’s knows that he’s more than welcome to join the team again when he comes back.
- What you learned about working in a team versus on your own
Working in your own, doesn’t actually mean working on your own. It just means that you have to do more work towards outsourcing. I had to make use of any useful connections I had, as well as sacrifice time toward revision for my final exams. When you’re in a team, there’s often times when you’re tempted to relax a little bit because the work is being split, you just have that extra time. That’s probably the biggest difference. At the same time, you get to understand a lot more about the different aspects of your project when you work alone, so in a way, in balances out.
- What you learned about honing your business value proposition, how to pitch and how to promote it
1. Your pitch can always be improved.
2. Your pitch should be an extension of yourself.
3. Your business proposal doesn’t have to be perfect at this stage.
I think these are the main things I can take away with regards to the business aspect of the competition. Other than that, I guess your product promotion depends on how much groundwork your willing to do. If you can understand why your product is important and you can convince other people that it’s as important as you think it is, then you’ve got a potential winner. Obviously, that’s easier said than done though.
- What you learned from the design and development process
It’s mostly about balance. In science, you have to be very careful in your design, because you’re dealing with atoms and molecules, which requires an elevated level of specificity. But if you spend to long designing without testing, you just waste time and money. Also, you can’t just rely people who are more senior in the field to help out. The more you understand about your design and why it’s been designed that way, the less likely you will be to make mistakes, or at least that’s been true in my experience. That being said, failing is key in the development process. The results end up being more robust because you’ve already dealt with several problems along the way. That’s only if you succeed in the end though.