UW Foster MBAs take second at East-West All-Star Challenge

East-West MBA all Star Challenge 2009

The UW Foster School of Business East-West MBA All-Star Case Challenge team (L-R): Ming Fan (faculty advisor), George Zhu, Megan Armstrong, Martin Wilson, Nathan Kolmodin.

A team of MBA students from the University of Washington’s Michael G. Foster School of Business tied for second place at the 2009 East-West MBA All-Star Case Challenge held in Beijing January 5-6.

Sixteen teams representing 12 elite universities in China, Singapore, South Korea and the United States participated in this invitation-only competition, organized jointly by Microsoft and Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business.

The Foster School team – full-time MBAs Martin Wilson and Nathan Kolmodin and evening MBAs George Zhu and Megan Armstrong – finished behind only the University of Chicago in the “compete” phase of the event. This phase was the culmination of six weeks of work to conceptualize a new, scalable mobile service and marketing campaign to support Microsoft’s Imagine Cup or DreamSpark programs. Imagine Cup encourages young people to create technology innovations that can make a difference in the world. DreamSpark provides free development and design software to millions of college students across the globe.

Real-world challenge
By design, the competition offered challenging real-world conditions. “We wanted to leverage the current economic downturn to give participants a taste of some of the scenarios they could encounter in the real world – budget cuts, changes in project parameters, increased expectations on return to investment – and help the students see that innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity, not a threat,” said Pradeep U.N., director of the Microsoft Firenze program.

The Foster plan was a localized version of Imagine Cup that seeks to reach a larger, younger, more diverse segment by appealing to less tech-savvy students who might otherwise feel intimidated by the challenge.

Student teamwork and raw skill makes a difference
Following the “compete” phase, participants were shuffled into eight inter-school teams to create a new solution that addressed the same scenario in short order. Kolmodin’s mixed team placed second in the “collaborate” phase, earning $10,000 from Microsoft to implement its proposal. He says he earned much more from the experience.

“The ‘compete’ phase allowed us to focus on honing the skills we are developing in an academic environment,” he said, “where the ‘collaboration’ phase enhanced the experience by giving us the opportunity to seek synergies across cultures since we needed to implement our idea without regard to borders, geographical restrictions and cultural differences.”

“The competition was taxing, exhilarating and led to relationships that can only be created within a crucible-like situation.”

The Foster team was advised by Ming Fan, an assistant professor of information systems, and Elizabeth Stearns, a senior lecturer in marketing. Foster MBAs brought home the grand prize from the inaugural East-West MBA All-Star Case Challenge in 2008, with their winning plan to market Chinese-brewed Tsingtao Beer in the US.