How to pick a winner.

Over the course of my working life, I have often been required to judge a winner in a new business competition, whether for an award, grant or loan.

This week I again find myself judging the entrants for the Enterprise Breakthrough Award for new businesses in the creative subjects at my old university.

As I prepare to hear from the contestants, I cannot help but reflect that judging has become much more complex over the time I have been judging businesses.

When I started judging the only sustainability factor was the economic one. Judging centred around the overall business plan and its ability to support the financial projections. Whilst this sustainability factor is still important, I now find I need to also consider the other three pillars of sustainability.

The other three pillars are human sustainability, social sustainability, and environmental sustainability. No longer do we simply judge a business on whether it has a financial future, we now need to consider a whole host of other factors locally, nationally, and globally.

I, for one, have no problem with the need to protect and improve the human capital through business activities or the need to ensure that the business does not damage the world for future generations. Equally, I am fully aware of the increasing need to consider environmental impact when evaluating.

Where the difficulty comes in judging entrants is in balancing differing performances in each of the four pillars. Where businesses are stronger in one area than another entrant, but weaker in another, how does one balance these out?

Clearly, failure in the economic sustainability pillar will not win prizes but trying to put together a mathematical formula for the other three is not the way to address this.

Indeed, I find that, rather than trying to measure relative contributions in each area with businesses that are very diverse, it is easier to look for the absence of consideration, or negative effects on any of the three pillars as a separator between entrants.

However, if previous experience is anything to go by, overthinking the judging process will only serve to confuse me. I am better off looking forward to this week, enjoying the creativity of the entrants, in the belief that today’s young people are more aware of sustainability than the traditionalist business leaders of the past.

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