Eight Ways Case Competitions Can Enhance Your Business Degree

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Monday, January 18, 2016
By Giselle Weybrecht
Photo by iStock/kasto80
Case competitions are an innovative, hands-on opportunity for business school students to apply what they’re learning—and gain invaluable experience.

If you think a business degree is just about taking classes, think again. Schools offer students a wide range of additional hands-on opportunities to apply what they’re learning—and innovative case competitions are one of those activities. During these short events, teams of students are invited to analyze a particular business challenge, provide pioneering ideas and solutions to that challenge, and present them to a panel of distinguished judges, who are often senior leaders at companies from around the world.

But completing a business degree is tough enough; why add to your workload? Although they might not be a required part of your curriculum, case competitions are well worth considering. In addition to encouraging your creativity, case competitions offer the following benefits:

  1. Networking: Not only is this a chance to learn from your teammates but also to meet and mingle with business students on other competition teams from around the world going through the same experience.

    Case in Point: The Asian Business Case Competition, organized by students from Nanyang Business School in Singapore, is aimed at undergraduate business students. Cases are centered on an Asian-based organization; for example, this year’s challenge with the Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore was to transform Singapore into a hub for sustainable recycling and waste-to-energy technologies.

  2. Travel: Most case competitions include the opportunity to attend either the whole competition or just the finals on the host school’s campus. Here’s your ticket to visit that city you’re hoping to work in post-graduation! Better yet, this is a great opportunity to learn more about different cultures and business realities.

    Case in Point: The Champions Trophy Case Competition, founded by the University of Auckland Business School, brings together 12 undergraduate universities for a week-long event in New Zealand. The competition takes place over three preliminary rounds and one final round, and all cases are based on national business challenges.

  3. Experience: Case competitions are an excellent way to gain additional experience in a particular industry of interest, especially if you’re looking to change careers. Competitions focus in on every imaginable business topic, from marketing and finance to industry-specific competitions including real estate and healthcare.

    Case in Point: Michigan Ross School of Business’s Energy Club hosts an annual Renewable Energy Case Competition every year in December. Teams of MBA students from around the world compete to solve one of the many significant challenges facing the renewable energy industry today. Last year the sponsor was General Electric, and teams competed to devise go-to-market strategies for behind-the-meter and grid-scale solutions for battery storage.

  4. Applying Knowledge: Taking part in case competitions enables you to apply the knowledge you’re learning in the classroom to an actual business challenge, as well as gain experience presenting the solution to a high-level jury.

    Case in Point: Aspen Case Competition brings together students from 25 different business schools to tackle a case study requiring innovative thinking at the intersection of corporate profitability and positive social and environmental impacts. Last year’s case looked at creating new corporate responsibility metrics for insurance and asset management company AXA.

  5. Jobs/Internships: Most case studies are either sponsored by or include the involvement of local and international companies. Winning these, or even impressing particular judges, can result in invaluable networking opportunities with specific companies you may be interested in working with post-graduation.

    Case in Point: IESE Business School in Spain and consulting company Roland Berger’s Case Competition invites teams of four first-year MBA students, with at least three different nationalities and two different languages represented, to work together on a business solution for a relevant and current case—an exercise that simulates the reality of a career in consulting. Experienced consultants from Roland Berger coach the teams and give valuable advice throughout the process.

  6. Prizes: Many of the case competitions have significant cash prizes for winners, ranging from a few hundred U.S. dollars to 30–40,000 USD, providing an additional incentive for students to enter.

    Case in Point: Ernst and Young and the University of Notre Dame have partnered on the Annual Diversity Conference Case Competition for the past eight years. The case used asks students to examine diversity and inclusiveness, specifically regarding gender dynamics in the business community, and come up with solutions to a related business challenge. Cases are judged by professionals from the university as well as professionals from Ernst & Young, and prizes include 7,000 USD for first place and 3,000 USD for second.

  7. Making an Impact: A growing number of case competitions focus on live cases in which a particular business presents a case they’re currently dealing with and invites students to provide feedback and innovative ideas and solutions to help them deal with this challenge. In this way students can have an immediate impact on the business world.

    Case in Point: INCAE Business School in Costa Rica and Nespresso work together on the Nespresso MBA Challenge. Every year teams of MBA students from more than 80 schools around the world generate solutions to a specific supply chain challenge faced by the company that year. The winning team travels to South America to validate their strategy, meet local stakeholders, and implement their solution on the ground.

  8. Thrill: Case competitions are quick, often intense experiences in which students often only have a few hours to read and analyze the case, come up with solutions, and present them to a jury. Many thrive on these opportunities and list them as highlights of their degree.

    Case in Point: The John Molson MBA International Case Competition is a round-robin tournament consisting of seven unpublished business cases. Students have three hours to evaluate a case, with no access to the Internet, and present their solution to a panel of senior business executives. Two of the seven cases are short cases in which both the preparation and presentation times are reduced, and a live case is given by a senior executive of a major company on a current business challenge they face.

Whether you’re already competitive by nature or could use some motivation to challenge yourself, participating in case competitions offers an excellent opportunity to engage in teamwork, get a real taste of the business world, and make memorable connections over a shared experience.

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Giselle Weybrecht
Author, Advisor, and Speaker, Sustainability and Business
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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