Standing by the food table at the University of ASEM in Chisinau, Moldova, I was making a tough decision on whether to choose a potato or cheese pastry (infamously known in Eastern Europe as placinta) when I came upon two high school students with great smiles on their faces. Those two were Tamara Ceaicovschi and Tudor Petrici. We greeted one another and began having a small conversation. I noticed that there were not any plastic cups left for water, so I asked Tudor if he knew where I could find one. He shook his head no, but then offered me his. Not thinking twice, I took his cup, thanked him, and we shared a laugh. Both he and Tamara were very warm people and engaging in our discussion, which quickly shifted to their project. They told me that they had created a bicycle business concept. Immediately, I knew who they were. Before the live presentations on this day, two volunteers and I were in charge of proofreading all business concept papers that each team was required to submit. I had the privilege of reading theirs.
The bicycle business concept focused on receiving a donation of 500 bicycles from Pedals for Progress to be shipped to Moldova at the outset. From there, the team decided it would sell the bikes to locals in need of transportation and establish a repairs shop in their community of Grozesti. I remember loving their well-written English concept paper. I provided the team with this exact feedback:
- Well-defined problem.
- 500 free bikes being shipped from Pedals for Progress NGO in the U.S. is a feasible startup solution.
- Expensive shipping costs to receive bikes but they proved the mayor’s office would consider paying for bikes up front and provide affordable space. Please show a signed statement or proof of this agreement.
- Bike repairs and spare parts is your true business after bike sales. You are going to need to create more revenue streams to be profitable, especially if you are operating at the local level.
- I question whether the lack of bike repairs is a great enough problem in the community.
- Strange working hours 11am-2pm, please modify.
- Potential to grow/scale the business is low due to the fact that most Moldovans can fix their own cars let alone bicycles.
- The average consumer repairs a bike once per year, need to be creative in how you can acquire wealth from other sources.
Tamara and Tudor took the constructive criticism in stride, which was very impressive considering most business professionals cannot. They mentioned they would add bike tours and rent out some bikes to be more sustainable. We discussed their plan in-depth and even joked around about our favorite foods from Moldova. Our meeting came to a quick close as we were all gathered back into the main room to hear which teams would be the top three finalists of the pitch competition. The teams selected would have to present their concept one more time to a panel of 11 judges and a room full of 100+ attendees, increasing the pressure. Unsurprisingly, Tamara and Tudor’s concept was selected as a finalist.
Their team got back on stage and excelled in presenting their concept. Even better was their approach to answering some very difficult questions from the panel of judges. One judge was critical of Moldovans riding bikes in the winter months. Tudor looked at the judge and told him that Moldovans will ride bikes in any weather conditions. I laughed under my breath having witnessed it personally.
After all the teams presented, the judges named the winners. Tamara and Tudor went up against two very strong competitors, but prevailed. The looks on both of their faces were priceless. Both of their mouths dropped in astonishment. They looked at one another in disbelief, then embraced in happiness. I remember feeling so good for these two kids. They placed a great amount of effort into their concept paper, performed admirably at the live competition, and are just two fantastic people to boot. I was elated and so were they.
In winning the national competition Tamara and Tudor now have the opportunity to compete in the final competition at the University of Delaware in April against high school teams from the United States and one team from Kenya. As a member of the Diamond Challenge Moldova steering committee it is my responsibility to get our team to Delaware. With 11 days remaining to raise funds we need all of the help we can get. Currently, we stand at 24% funded ($1,335 of $5,500 raised). We have created an Indiegogo campaign where you can contribute funds safely and securely now. If you have any questions, please leave me a comment or write me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please donate to our cause and help fulfill Tamara and Tudor’s dreams of visiting the United States, improving their business skills, and allowing them to represent their country in the international competition.