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INSEAD Students Tackle Coronavirus Pandemic

Students at INSEAD challenged their peers to use business as a force for good—to tackle COVID-19 related problems

A group of MBA students at INSEAD have come together to solve some of the problems caused by coronavirus—through the COVID-19 Innovation Competition.

With support from INSEAD’s faculty, staff, and corporate partners, the competition challenged teams of students to find a business solution to a problem created by coronavirus.

In total, 120 MBA students, with 50 innovative ideas between them, took part in the contest. More than 80 participants dialled into the finale—a six hour event that saw teams present their idea to a jury of five expert judges.

Jury members included serial entrepreneur Mika Salmi, and vice chairman of Roche Holding, André Hoffmann.

Hoffman is also the patron of the Hoffmann Global Institute for business and society, one of the competition's sponsors.


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Expert judges selected competition winners from among 16 teams © INSEAD via Facebook


Competing virtually

One of the main challenges that came with executing the competition was working in a virtual environment.

Organizers planned the event using online conference software, while competing teams met, developed ideas, and eventually presented them, entirely remote.

INSEAD is also using a virtual environment to host its first ever virtual MBA graduation ceremony, which will be livestreamed on YouTube.

Since 75% of employees perceive remote work as the “new normal,” the ability to plan and execute strategies in a virtual environment will serve these students well as they enter the MBA jobs market.


Innovative winners

After each competing team had given their final presentation, judges selected two winning business plans.

The prize for Best Business Venture went to All About Space—a membership service that aims to tackle the issue of inadequate home workspaces.

Although many companies have implemented a work from home policy in response to coronavirus, not all staff can access a comfortable, distraction-free workspace in their home.

In response, All About Space plans to connect these workers with empty hotel rooms. With this set-up, staff can be more productive and comfortable, while hotels fill unoccupied space.


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All About Space connects workers with remote workspaces, and won the Best Business Venture prize © INSEAD via Facebook


The prize for Best Business Venture With Highest Social Impact was awarded to Farm Fresh. Hoping to tackle disruptions to food supply chains caused by COVID-19, the team proposed an online platform to connect farmers with their customers directly. 

Simplifying the supply chain this way removes the issue of limited access to shops and markets caused by social distancing guidelines. 

The plan would also help avoid food waste through faster turnaround times, and increase income stability for farmers.


The role of innovation competitions

Competitions like INSEAD’s are an increasingly popular way to encourage innovative thinking around COVID-19.

NATO’s 2020 Innovation Challenge focuses on the logistical and communication challenges posed by the pandemic. Meanwhile, Innovate UK ran an innovation competition in April, which aimed to support UK businesses as they responded to urgent problems thrown up by coronavirus.

Innovation competitions have a long and successful history—one competition in 18th century France led to the invention of canned food. Another competition in Britain sparked navigation advances that helped sailors define their longitude.

Competition can clearly motivate and foster new ideas and technologies. Faced with the current pandemic, these events have the potential to inspire real solutions, and create real change.

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