Part of the Full-Time MBA curriculum is dedicated to the Imperial Innovation Challenge where this years’ theme was Sustainable Infrastructure: Creating a Path to the Future. Lucky for me, this is right up my alley! I spent 10 years in the solar industry before attending Imperial and am incredibly passionate about accelerating the energy transition and exploring ways to do that following my MBA.
The challenge was to think about existing infrastructure and ways to make it more environmentally and socially sustainable. Our project for the week was to adapt an existing or introduce a new business model to meet the challenge and pitch a proposal for a new strategic business unit to a group of executives.
Working in teams of five or six people, we split in half and six teams presented their full proposals to a panel of judges and the rest of the class. The class reconvened and the winners from each group presented to the entire body and judges selected the winners of the grand prize, £500, won by my team!
Led by Dr Charlie Donovan, Innovation Week was very structured, guiding us through a thoughtful process and framing the challenge with case studies followed by time to work with our teams to develop our unique proposal.
Coming up with an idea
We discussed various ideas from finding solutions around plastic waste and reuse/upcycling programmes to exploring ways Amazon could accelerate the creation of a smart grid to growing alternative protein for farmed fish.
The idea we decided to pursue started as a logistical solution, utilising spare capacity that becomes available after deliveries in distribution routes. Once we had decided on our project, we had four days (including a weekend) dedicated solely towards ideating, developing, and perfecting our project.
We wanted to choose a company that had an extensive distribution network. We weighed PepsiCo and Nestle but opted for Bimbo Bakeries. With 60,000 delivery routes worldwide, finding ways to optimize the spare capacity could have a substantial impact.
Bimbo Bakeries Mexico distribution
We decided to focus within Mexico as Bimbo has a large presence there, in addition to the known pollution issues and general societal need. Most of the sales in Mexico come from tiendas (small corner markets).
There are distribution centres in larger cities that service many surrounding towns. Each delivery truck would service three to four towns daily, leaving the distribution centre with a full load, delivering to multiple tiendas in each town, then return empty. The following is a summary of our winning pitch to the judges.
Bimbo is the largest bakery in the world, with an extensive line of brands sold in over 3.3 million storefronts around the world and over $15B in annual revenue. They are strongly committed to the environment, already deployed some EV trucks in their fleet and a goal to be 100% renewable by 2025.
Mexico is one of Bimbo’s largest markets, making up 25-30% of overall business. Mexico faces many socio-economic issues, so we decided to focus on the fact that small local farmers are being pushed out by large corporations and have difficulty distributing their produce due to high transportation costs.
Stimulating industry growth and reducing the number of trucks on the road
Our project aims to help these farmers distribute their goods to neighbouring towns, stimulating industry growth while reducing the number of trucks on the road and increasing local produce consumption.
If farmers make deals in neighbouring towns, they can bring the daily delivery to their local tienda. Once Bimbo delivers their goods, they pick up the produce on their way out of town and deliver it to the tienda at the receiving party.
We proposed a pilot of one route in Veracruz, Mexico, and calculated:
- $200 savings to the farmer in transportation costs
- $200 in additional revenue to tiendas
- 411Kg CO2 savings and
- One truck equivalent off the road.
When scaled just within Mexico, this has the potential to lead to $600M worth of local goods transported, $27M additional revenue to Bimbo, and 15,000 trucks off the road!
Triumphs and learning
Our final pitch was somewhat different from the original concept, and the development was not linear. This might be one of the bigger takeaways of the Challenge: the path to success is rarely a straight shot.
It was a pleasure to hear the presentations on the day of the challenge and hear what other teams came up with. The prize money added to the spirit of competitiveness. Some of the more intriguing ideas included ways to disrupt TFL, the mortgage and public parking industries.
I think part of our success can be attributed to the fact that my team was adept at creativity in a lateral way. We avoided complicated factors by delivering to a pretty specific ask. Adding to team strength was the fact that our skills were balanced and complemented each other, and the fact that two of us have backgrounds in sustainability.
This week was a great way to practice innovative ways of thinking and solve challenging problems by introducing new ways of doing business. Changes that can be implemented on this level could really have tremendous effects in the long run and I believe all businesses could stand to be a bit, or a lot, more sustainably innovative.