Oleksandr Shymanko, developer of the PiPillow project, Digital technology category winner, Country winner, International Big Idea Challenge 2019 champion.

I have heard about the Big Idea Challenge competition from the Lviv Startup Tech School, Creative Spark partner in Ukraine. So, my team and I tried our luck first in the country competition, where many wonderful Ukrainian projects are presented. We wanted to win and expected to get into the next stage.

I came up with the project idea when I lived in the United States within the exchange programme. At that time, I was studying at a local school and had a sleep disorder. I have tried to use headphones to listen to music or audiobooks before falling asleep, but it was so uncomfortable. So the first function of our smart pillow was playing audiobooks. Later, when I shared an idea with my friends, we started to develop additional features such as sleep tracking. We are currently testing the pillows and finalizing the application.

We have started preparing a pitch for the BIC competition. We recorded the video pitch at the Lviv Tech Startup School, and it was an improvisation without a prepared text. People say that it is better to learn from the mistakes of others and I tried to notice the mistakes of other participants. I think the main mistake is telling a story using a template. I had a different approach - I wanted to tell about the product in my own words, as if I was telling my friend about my idea. I think that is the secret to a successful pitch - simple andclear speech.

After participating in the BIC, we learned what accepting responsibility is about. We used to treat our product as something secondary, because each member of the team has the main job and other different interests. After the study trip to London, we understood that our product is needed, people believed in us and were willing to invest their support and finances. We understood what we should focus our efforts on this project.

After winning the BIC, the Ukrainian media started talking about us, which helped a lot to establish new contacts. Even though our target market is not only Ukraine, there are many people in the country who can help us. Similarly, in London, we met many people with work with now on our and on their projects, we develop applications and websites for them.

I learned a lot from the workshops that London Met conducted for us. At first, I was quite sceptical about learning, I thought we already knew enough, but after the first workshop, I changed my mind. As we learned to define our target audience, I realized that we should think about users’ needs. Being able to hear your audience is a very useful skill that we learned in London.

My advice for future participants is to relax. Many people perceive the competition as an exam at school, but this is not the case. You just tell your idea. You do not need to play a role. You also need to dismiss all doubts and believe in your project, because if you do not believe in it, why should others do? However, be ready to hear feedback, to keep the middle ground between the opinion of others and your self-belief.

We carefully spend a prize award on improving the pillow and do not want to waste the chance we have been given, so we always think about how best to use our resources.

It is important to constantly improve skills and knowledge and we plan to continue to develop in the field of smart electronics.

There is a stereotype that IT and company development are not about Ukraine, in fact, this not true. Competitions such as Big Idea Challenge are very important because they provide an opportunity to develop and take advantage of globalization.