Competition Season 2015, Part 2

This is Part 2 of a three part diary style blog post on Entrepreneurship Competition Season. Part 3 will be posted after the National Entrepreneurship Competition on November 18. Click here for Part 1. 

I thought that after the Municipal Competition I would be liberated. I thought that I would have less on my plate and feel a bit less stressed. I was wrong. There is still a lot of running around to be down for the still unconfirmed Departmental Competition. I took a three day weekend, coming back from Boaco on Monday. I really could have used Monday to work and gotten things rolling this week, but the four days that remain will just have to do.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

6:50 AM alarm

First, while at the UCC for another meeting with students, I dropped off a letter asking to use one of their air conditioned auditoriums for the Departmental Competition. Then, I visited INO, the milk with carao high school. I oriented them on the Department Competition and what they needed to do in the two weeks to succeed. I would repeating this very conversation with my other two teams competing in the Department Competition, but it had to be done at each of the three schools.

Later in the day I confirmed by phone that Mina el Limón would not be participating due to the violent protests. There has not been school in two weeks and counting. And I made contact with an administrator in La Paz Centro who is going to plan their local competition (although time is running out).

Wednesday, October 14

The morning brought great news. My largest donor from last year is once again contributing $150, which puts me at my budgeted goal. I won’t need to seek any additional funding for this years’ events. I also continued making my rounds to schools and meeting with teachers and teams. It rained for seven hours this afternoon and evening, and I got 100% drenched to the bone swimming home from school with my bike this afternoon. I couldn’t even get dinner because I had nothing in the house, my usually food lady didn’t come around, and the road to La Colonia was a rushing river. Looks like I will have to open up my emergency granola bar rations.

Thursday, October 15

A running theme has been not having an approved date for the Departmental Competition. My counterpart and I have proposed October 26, but the Superintendant decided to send it in to Managua for approval (political centralization is a bit paralyzing here), and that was three months ago. My counterpart keeps saying that he is working on it, but we still don’t have an approved date. I sense that I may not be the only Volunteer with this problem, because my boss sent all Volunteers a copy of the signed letter between the Minister of Education and the Peace Corps authorizing the Entrepreneurship events. I had a copy printed out and dropped it off at the Ministry of Education this morning…

Another meeting with another team. This team didn’t even know that they were going to the Departmental Competition because they thought that only first place advances. This team is the furthest behind in terms of preparation, and they have the least experienced teacher, but I will do what I can to help them get prepared. They are the most impressive group, in terms of cohesion, motivation, and intelligence, in my opinion. Plus, considering that they started the year with a brand new teacher, a lot has already been accomplished at their school.

… And by this afternoon there was an e-mail waiting for me saying that the date for the competition, October 26, had been approved. I will head over to the Ministry of Education tomorrow to make final plans with my counterpart.

Friday, October 16

So it turns out the good news is that the date of the event is approved, but the bad news is that the Superintendent, my counterpart, and one of his colleagues got called into Managua for a meeting the morning of the 26th. There goes my guest of honor, master of ceremonies, and one of my four judges, not to mention the truck that was going to bring the sound system to the event.

So basically our planning meeting turned into me having to figure out everything with one week to go.

Monday, October 19 – 7 Days Until the Departmental Competition

IMG_5391This morning was the Municipal Competition in nearby Telica. My site-mate Robert works with the teachers in Telica, and he asked me to be a judge. I was happy to oblige. It started over an hour late, but it was a nice event with three different schools attending, and a lot of positive signs coming from the respective teachers. The winning team was a musical band (interesting, since they offer a service rather than a product), and second place was a vase made out of egg shells. They can out really nicely I thought.

I also really liked a traditional candy made out of goat milk, cashews, and beans (yes, beans). Unfortunately, it came out a bit mushy and not very well packaged or marketed, so they did not win. But there is certainly the potential for that type of product to be very sucessful. It exploits locally available products, processes them, and appeals to Nicaraguan culture by being a traditional candy.


Goat milk, beans, and cashew candy anyone?

In the afternoon, back in León, I headed over to the UCC (they had already approved my request to use their auditorium, which is a huge relief) to work on a session I was going to give along with my counterpart at the UCC at the National Entrepreneurship Congress. We planned our talk, and we decided to include a case study based on the fishing cooperative at Poneloya. The session is on business administration, both in practice and as a career path in university.

The milk with carao team also came by to work with the UCC. The UCC is helping them with marketing and packaging, and they had a productive session on improving their corporate image.

Tuesday – 6 Days Until the Departmental Competition

I spent the morning yet again visiting two of the teams. First milk with carao, and then the manuelita flour mix. Usually I see the manuelita kids last class before they go home in the evening, but this morning they were a bunch of combative little chavalos who didn’t want to willfully take my suggestions and advice. I think that my counterpart and I got through to them though.

Wednesday – 5 Days To Go

A positive aspect of this week has been the work that the three teams are putting in to improve themselves for the next competition, plus that the business university is helping them as much as possible. This morning I was with the carao milk group at the university, where the university professors are helping them with label design. I think the group has an awesome label (of course, I did make a few suggestions) that illicits strong emotions by combining Nicaragua’s proud indigenous roots with the natural ingredients in their products.

This is the final label design. Not exactly what I had in mind, but certainly an improvement on what they had before.

This is the final label design. Not exactly what I had in mind, but certainly an improvement on what they had before.

I spent the rest of the day running around firming up details for Monday and meeting with one of the other groups. I also had a long sojourn at noontime to have a goodbye lunch soup with Jen, since she is closing her service on Monday and flying home on Tuesday. She is my longest lasting site-mate; the last remaining member of my Lions’ Pride. I am going to miss her. Luckily, there are great things on the horizon with Robert and Hailee (my newer site-mates).

Tomorrow is the last free day I have before the competition. I’ve got a page-long to-do list, but I think I can get it all done and feel good heading into the weekend and the event on Monday.

Thursday – 4 Days Left

Today was the first day in my Peace Corps service that I left my house and got on my bike in the morning and I did not return home until the evening. With that being said, the day was a success. Everything is set for Monday except for one detail, which I hope to square away tomorrow. My teams are as prepared as they will be, my counterparts know their roles, the refreshments and snacks are paid for, we got a sound system and an MC, and all of my judges are confirmed. It was a long day, but I am happy. Even La Paz Centro pulled through and had their Municipal Competition. They will be sending two teams, each from a different school, on Monday morning.

At one point this afternoon I was at the UCC and ran into two of the kids from Milk with Carao. They were working on their business plan and asked me to sit down with them so they could ask me some questions. I had a little bumper time, so I did sit down with them. They had come right from school and had not eaten lunch. They were hungry, and they had no money. I bought them each a sandwich, which they thoroughly appreciated. Most students would rather go home and get lunch than stick around after school to keep working on a project. And these students are poor. There is not enough money in the family to be buying lunches outside of the home. I really admire how hard this team is working and I was happy to buy them the sandwiches today.

Truly, these last two weeks have been much easier than the run-up to the Municipal Competition. It was a lot of work and I put miles on my bicycle, but since I was working with a smaller group of students of teachers I found myself a lot less frustrated with my teams. I’m actually proud of them, and I think we definitely have a chance on Monday. Milk with Carao and the flour mix especially. El Sauce is always strong, so they will be the strongest competition, but it would be awesome if one of my teams advances to the National Competition this year.

Friday – T minus Three

The only item of note is that I successfully procured a projector. We are now 100% set for the competition.

Sunday – T minus One

I got a text from the administrator in La Paz Centro. She said that only one team was going to come because the other team could not send their business plan. I texted back that the other team could still come as long as they brought their plan the morning of the competition.

Competition Monday

4:45 AM – Alarm

5:25 – Walk over to Dulce’s house and meet Robert and Conrad to slather Nica chicken salad on 240 slices of bread (for a total of 120 sandwiches).

Last year I tried to get the snack for the competition donated, but failed, so unofficial host mom Dulce helped me make chicken salad sandwiches for everyone (she has a very simple recipe). We did the same thing this year. Despite the utter disgust I have for the sludge-like substance (it is pureed chicken with onions, peppers, celery, and lots and lots and lots and LOTS of mayonnaise, ketchup, and mustard), I don’t regret the decision either year. It is easy to make and Dulce helps and makes it easy to transport. She has helped me with all aspects of the competition two years in a row now and I am extremely grateful to her.

I was actually at the UCC, location of the competition, before 7:00. And there I wanted for two hours as all of the teams and parts (sound system, projector, etc.) assembled. I told everyone we started at eight so that we would start by nine. And that’s what we did. We started at 9:00, even though two teams were still missing (they wound up being an hour and 20 minutes late in the end). During the two hours I collected all of the PowerPoints and business plans, briefed my judging panel, and worked a little bit with my three student groups.

At one point a girl passed me her thumb drive to let me copy to my computer her PowerPoint. My computer said the drive had a virus.

Eric: Your thumb drive has a virus.

Girl: I know.

Eric: Then why the hell would you give it to me to put in my computer!?

Luckily I have an anti-virus that caught the virus and protected my computer.

All in all, the event went very well. The judges (who by coincidence were all women) were very rough. Maybe even too rough. But they were fair, and treated all the teams the same. 10 teams came in all. El Jicaral pulled out last minute because their teacher has been ill. La Paz Centro sent two teams, but from the same school. One of the two winners from their Municipal Competition could not get its act together for the event today. Ironically, the substitute team had a business plan, but no PowerPoint presentation. It’s a shame, but I could not have done more in regard to either of those two municipalities, in my opinion.

So how did my teams do?

The toasted corn drink got skewered for the name of their business – “Flavor.” I told them a million times not to use an English name. So it goes.

The crepe mix and milk with carao both had good presentations. I thought that the crepe mix’s presentation was particularly strong. However, they both had some weak points during the questions and answers. Plus, one of the judges particularly disliked the smell and flavor of the carao milk. Come to think of it now, they probably should have mixed in some cacao to stabilize the flavor and smell. So it goes.

In the end the crepe mix got second place, carao won “Most Innovative,” and the drink mix did not place. No dice. Only first place advances to the National Competition. El Sauce won first place with their diabetic cookie made out of moringa (miracle plant that is all the rage in Nicaragua). The cookie tasted like crap, but they had a good business plan, presentation, and understanding of their finances and market. I was disappointed, especially for my teams who worked so hard and got so close to first place. On the bright side though, carao and crepe mix both got prize money. They can use it for whatever they’d like. The winning team needs to use their money to travel to Managua for the National Competition.

There is little left to do now for the competitions. I need to make the rounds with my teams next week (this week I have some other stuff going on, including the Estelí Departmental Competition on Thursday). I also need to drop off thank you notes with my donors. And lastly, I need to work with my Counterpart for our presentation at the National Entrepreneurship Congress the day before the National Competition in November.

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