Issue 5, 2019. October-November



The Big Idea Challenge is an annual competition that puts it to youth in the Caucasus, Central Asia and Eastern Europe to come up with innovative business ventures. Here's a look at this year's victors in Georgia.

Lika Jorjoliani

The United Nations Creative Economy report recognized the creative sector as one of the fastest growing sectors in the global economy back in 2011.

Now Georgian youth are increasingly trying their hand at entrepreneurship with the support of government programmes and local NGOs. One such program is Creative Spark, which was launched by the British Council in order to stimulate entrepreneurship across Central Asia and the Caucasus and promote international partnerships between universities and educational institutions.

Creative Spark has been in Georgia since 1993. Using the experience of the UK, Creative Spark aims to direct the educational system toward the creative economy. In Georgia, Creative Spark focuses on delivering business skills to aspiring entrepreneurs, from pitching ideas to protecting intellectual property. The program also makes accessible online learning platforms with a focus on English for entrepreneurship.

To help advance their mission, Creative Spark introduced the Big Idea Challenge back in 2018, an international competition aimed at the promotion of creative thinking.

For the competition, participants from seven countries, including Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia and Ukraine were required to deliver their business idea in a one minute video pitch.

Nine participants for each of the three categories were selected to receive mentorship packages and marketing assistance to develop their ideas.

Projects were judged based on both the degree of innovation and feasibility of their concept.

SAPO, the creative category winner and overall country champion in Georgia, shined in both these key areas. Their mission is a simple one: make hand-washing fun for kids.

SAPO's all-natural, animal shaped soaps are sold along with a book. To read to the end, children must use the soap to reveal a clue hidden inside which points to where the last page of the book can be found. Co-founder Naili Vakhania explains that it is precisely SAPO's innovative approach to handwashing that has made their soap a hit among parents.

"Our motivation for the project was to get children to enjoy washing their hands - all parents know how trying that can be. So we came up with the idea of attaching a story or an adventure to the book."

In digital technology, Levan Tkemaladze, George Sheshaberidze and David Paychadze took home the nomination for iWant, "a demand-based marketplace" that allows consumers to voice their desires and pick among competing offers. The idea is that in reversing the roles of consumer and producer, shopping will be made less complicated for everybody:

"Instead of wasting time and energy, or even money, on searching for and explaining your order, you simply place your order out there, and choose the best deal. This also saves time for suppliers, as they don't have to spend so much energy on advertising," Sheshaberidze explains in iWant's video pitch.

Starting small, going big

At the end of August, the creators of SAPO traveled to London to take part in a three day 'Startup Sprint.' Now SAPO, which began in Tbilisi without funding, has big plans to increase production and sales.

"We want to go international with our product, because it is in English and has been very popular with tourists. Our grant will be spent according to a new project outline we developed with British experts and advisers at the University of Oxford."

The goal of the coordinator of Creative Spark in Georgia, Giorgi Razmadze, is to create more success stories like SAPO in Georgia. The key, he says, is increasing awareness among Georgian youth about entrepreneurship. About six schools in Georgia participated in Big Idea, collectively submitting around 50 applications, but there could be more.

"Several such accelerated hubs have been opened in various educational institutions of Georgia. This is a new direction and many investors are interested in new ideas. The most difficult is the first year and it is important at the initial stage to support such projects," Razmadze says.