Pitching your startup to an elite panel of judges who double as successful entrepreneurs can be intimidating, especially as a student trying to grow a business. But practice makes perfect, and competitions like Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO)'s Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (EO GSEA) encourage "studentpreneurs" to continue growing their businesses with help from mentors and fellow entrepreneurs. To get a student's perspective, we spoke with Asad Raza, founder and CEO of Neurostic, and a runner-up in the EO GSEA 2017 Global Finals.
With an estimated 12.35 million amputees globally, the amputee population is projected to rise by five percent annually due to increases in the diabetic population, natural disasters and terrorist activities. The excessive cost of a prosthetic arm or leg makes the possibility of obtaining a prosthesis unattainable for about 87 percent of amputees.
Inspired by amputee soldiers at the military institution where he studied, Asad Raza is changing the path of amputees in the developing world by providing prosthetic limbs that cost 80 percent less than current options offered by established industry players. We asked Raza about his student pitch competition experience and how it impacted his entrepreneurial journey.
Here's our conversation:
EO: Describe your company.
Raza: Neurostic is a healthcare company that provides affordable medical devices for the developing world. We're currently manufacturing high-quality prosthetic limbs for transtibial amputees―those who have lost a leg between the ankle and knee.
We focus our efforts on active prosthetics, meaning that they work in conjunction with the muscle and nerve endings to replicate the functionality of the original limb as much as possible, as opposed to passive prosthetics, which simply provide the look of the original limb.
What inspired you to become a social entrepreneur?
In the area of Pakistan where I grew up, we have a strong tradition of joining the army. Though I was raised from a young age to excel in the army and passed the entrance exam with a high score, I wanted to be different than everyone else.
At the military school where I studied, I saw army officers and soldiers with amputations who couldn't return to their previous jobs and couldn't be promoted because of their limitations. Helping these brave people is what motivates me. I thought I could make a bigger impact as an entrepreneur than by enlisting.
Tell us about your student pitch competition experience.
I first applied in 2016 through EO Lahore, but I wasn't accepted. Nor was I deterred. I applied again in 2017 and was selected to represent Pakistan in the EO GSEA Global Finals in Frankfurt, Germany.
It was by far the best experience I had in any international pitch competition. I established lifelong friendships with other studentpreneurs from all around the world.
The unique thing about this specific competition is that the judges place more weight on the individual entrepreneur than on the business they've founded. This is what makes the competition so very special: The business might fail, but if the entrepreneur has the drive and hunger to succeed, the judges are able to discern whether he or she may succeed in a future venture.
What surprised you most about the competition?
Finding my entrepreneurial community―finally! It's true when people say, "It's lonely at the top." But suddenly I was surrounded by other studentpreneurs from around the world who were facing the same problems that I face in running my business.
I connected with them at a level that I couldn't connect with other people along my entrepreneurial journey, because they're going through similar problems and issues with the same fears and vulnerabilities. We all appreciated the guidance of seasoned entrepreneurs during the competition; they were great mentors and genuinely helped participants improve our businesses and associated skills. It was the experience of a lifetime.
How did the competition impact your entrepreneurial journey?
Before it, I was an introverted nerd; participating helped me make a lot of friends. I met experienced entrepreneurs who are kind enough to share their opinions and advice.
I discovered collaborative opportunities and made numerous business connections that have helped me get contracts. The competition encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone, meet new people and network―all critical skills in achieving success.
What does the future hold for your company?
We've developed an affordable, viable, scalable option for providing prosthetics to the developing world so that the former cost of just one prosthetic leg can now help 10 amputees. We are conducting extensive testing of our third medical device with one of the largest humanitarian organizations in the world. We plan to expand to Africa and South America by 2020 and grow to reach $1 million in revenue by 2020.
My biggest fear is that despite all of our efforts and the recognition we've received, something will happen that causes us to fail to bring affordable prosthetics to the people who need them. But, I know deep down that we will persevere and overcome every challenge to succeed.