One of the rights of passage of an MBA is participating in a case competition. Case competitions give you the opportunity to put the theoretical knowledge you’ve learned in the classroom to use! But as a part-time, virtual, or distant learner, it can be challenging to get the same experience.
As a part-time online MBA student, I always wanted to take part in a case competition to understand what all the fuss was about. I got my chance in May, with an event called the “Small Business School Challenge” (SBSC). The SBSC is a 48 hour hackathon style case competition which sprung up as a response to SMBs struggling amidst the covid-induced lockdowns. Not only was this an opportunity for me to take part in a case competition, but it was also a chance for me to put positivity out into the world at a time when everything felt uncertain.
At the start of the event, my team was formed and we were paired with a one-woman-show embroidery shop in Oakmont, just outside Pittsburgh. Over the course of the 48 hours, we met with our SMB to better understand her needs and brainstorm ideas. We also strategized as a team, joined live programming to inspire our design thinking, and met with alumni mentors to hone our solutions.
The Friday of the case competition was the first day that businesses were allowed to resume in-person operations in Pittsburgh. This really illustrated the idea that the focus of the event was not Band-Aids to help survive the lockdown period. Instead, the focus was new ideas, business models, products, and partnerships that would position SMBs for success beyond the pandemic. I found that mindset very motivating, as it put the emphasis on thinking strategically around what options were both realistic, and future proof.
As mentioned, my team worked with an embroidery shop, and one of the most creative ideas we ended up presenting was simply to sell white face masks (which the shop already had) along with washable markers or tie dye materials. That idea also led to discussions around future face mask kits, embroidered face masks, and more!
After the 48 hours were complete, each of the Tepper teams pitched their small business’ situation and solutions. My team ended up coming in second (!!), while the first place Tepper team went on to the SBSC National Final to compete against the winners from other participating schools.
One of my favorite parts of the event was the interaction with alumni mentors. Since the 48-hour timeline is quick, it was great to have alumni mentors sense check ideas and inspire new ones. Two of our mentors even reached out after the event because they wanted to know how our presentation had gone! This virtual case competition experience was undoubtedly different than what I would have experienced in-person. However, I still had many of the same emotions and learning. I still felt the time crunch, the rush of competition, the team brainstorming and the last minute 4-person synchronous powerpoint editing. Perhaps more importantly, I was able to meet students I’d never interacted with before, feel connected to my Pittsburgh community, and put some good vibes into the world when everything else around me felt a little disorienting.