First Ivy MBA challenge is unlike others
Organizers of the Ivy MBA Mind to Market Case Challenge wanted the Ivy College of Business’s inaugural event to stand out from the crowd.
“Case challenges have been around for years and we knew we needed a niche,” said Ron Ackerman, director of MBA students services and one of the minds behind the challenge.
The college collaborated with the Iowa State University Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship to create an intense, two-day applied learning experience for MBA students.
“Our first step was focusing the competition on innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship. This combination isn’t represented in many competitions, and is a perfect fit with the mission of Iowa State,” said Gracen Kostelecky, program coordinator with the Pappajohn Center. “The next step was making it as real as possible.”
A business case challenge, also known as a case competition, is an opportunity where participants develop the best solution to a business problem within an allocated amount of time, typically with teams pitted against each other. Those teams then deliver presentations for judges, who select a winning team.
This live case would assist Gross-Wen Technologies, an Iowa State Research Park startup.
“One of the limitations I saw in most case competition formats is that you are solving a written case. It’s an academic exercise with no interaction with a live company. This one was with a live company and a live case,” said Rowan Gruber, an MBA student who was a member of the Ivy MBA team. “I can’t emphasize enough what a unique opportunity this was.”
The Ivy MBA Mind to Market Case Challenge attracted four-member teams from nine universities: Iowa State University, Baylor University, Purdue University, Texas Tech University, University of Illinois, University of Kansas, University of Missouri, University of Wisconsin, and Washington University in St. Louis.
Gross-Wen’s innovative technology treats wastewater by using a revolving algal biofilm system. It essentially grows algae that, in turn, recovers nitrogen and phosphorus from wastewater. This results in a biofilm that has several potential commercial uses. The process is catching the interest of major municipalities, and the company is envisioning a variety of revenue streams. The challenge: what does Gross-Wen do to position the company for future success?
Each team met with representatives of Gross-Wen and toured the business, where they saw the technology in action. The teams then worked deep into the night, developing solutions to the challenge.
“I would describe it like running a marathon – exciting, exhausting, and challenging, with a big sense of relief and achievement when it’s complete,” said Eleni Achrazoglou, another MBA student on the Iowa State team.
The next day, each team presented their ideas to a panel of judges, who then chose three finalists. The finalists presented their plans to another set of judges, which included both co-founders and the vice president of Gross-Wen Technologies. Iowa State did not prevail (Baylor won) but, as Ackerman notes, “the ultimate goal is not winning, but creating a valuable learning experience.”
On that count, the college’s first case challenge definitely succeeded.
“The problem-solving methodology is the most valuable component. It’s also an opportunity to learn about different industries,” said Gruber. “Ultimately, this was a chance to try your hand at consulting.”
Achrazoglou cited more benefits provided by the challenge.
“I gained valuable experience adapting to working with a new team under stressful circumstances,” she said. “I’m also very grateful to have learned more about our wonderful research park. My most valuable experience, though, was connecting with other MBA students from all over the country.”
There are plans to continue the case challenge and to recruit more teams.
“We’re a named college now and we want to increase our national visibility,” said Ackerman. “The Ivy MBA Mind to Market Case Challenge is an opportunity to invite students from around the country to visit campus and see what the Ivy College of Business is all about.”