My HEC Paris Journey, Part VIII: The Team Project

Written by Azat MardanJuly 07, 2021

The team project for my master’s degree in Innovation and Entreprenurship from HEC Paris took about a year. First, we were a team of four people. Then one person dropped out of the program and we were left just three of us: two guys from Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area and one guy from France.

Anyone could have pitched their own idea to the whole cohort so that the most popular ideas attract teammates to collaborate. Some team had as many as six people!

We started to work on the idea of a network of smart airpurifiers but then pivoted to an idea of a smart air quality meter. The reason was that the market for air purifiers is saturated and margins are low, while the smart air quality meter market is a blue ocean and high margins (albeit a lower price point than the purifiers). It still bogles my mind why giants like HoneyWell, Germguardian and Dyson won’t provide a WiFi connected air quality meter with their purifiers. In other words, our project was more like a feature than an entire new product. But that was okay since we just wanted to practice and we didn’t want to make it a real business because we already had full time jobs and/or our own existing businesses.

Each month, we had milestone like creation of a business plane financial projection, or marketing plan. We met every week to discuss the assignments and to coordinate our work. Then we worked asynchronously throughout the week on the assignment, usually each of us worked on a separate part that we agreed on before.

We had a coach with whom we’ve met a lot initially but then stopped meeting closer to the end of the program because we gelled well together and only needed the input on the final pitch.

The final pitch was pre-recorded and limited to 3 minutes to avoid abusing judges. By the way, 3 minutes is 10x-20x less than a typical startup would get at a VC meeting (that is 30-60 minutes). We each recorded about a minutes, I edited the videos to remove ums and ahs and to insert slides. I then sent the uploaded video to HEC. On the day of the presentation, we joined the call and watched our pre-recorded video. Then, we answered a few questions from the judges, who in turn provided scoring for our team project which is a heavy 50% of the degree score.

Our final project was well received. The pitch deck looked very polished thanks to a designer of one of our teammates. I created a website and a signup form to attract early buyers of our product. So we had early validation of our idea. We’ve contacted oversees manufactures to get the specs, terms and cost right.

It’s hard to simulate a real startup in the format and with the limitation of a degree. However, this team project allowed us to come as close as possible to a creation of a new product and maybe a new business. We got another “badge” in our portfolio to build the skills and confidence to act in real world.