Outside the Classroom: Business Case Competitions

Sometimes in business school, certain concepts can seem a little bit abstract. We perfect them in the classroom only to find out that in the real world, nothing turns out exactly as planned. Opportunities for practical applications of business knowledge outside of the classroom are so important in order to avoid that “oh my gosh, why doesn’t this work out in real life?” feeling. Internships aside, the business case competition is the king of all these experiences.

As a senior, looking back at my time at Penn, some of the most challenging and most rewarding activities of mine were these business case competitions. Most recently, I was able to attend the Wake Forest Marketing Case Competition where teams of four undergraduates from the nation’s best business schools competed in an insane 36-hour contest. We were tasked with finding a way for a leading U.S. bank to target millennials and leverage technological innovations.

After a long day of travel, we were handed the case question at 9 pm on that first night. We worked late into that night brainstorming ideas, but eventually decided not to try to pull an all-nighter. We knew we had a problem when every idea began to sound like a good idea. We woke up early the next morning and got right back to work. All the teams were being extremely secretive about their work, and our various covert tactics were not really gaining us any useful intel. We worked late into the second night, fighting off delirium. Then, like in the last leg of a marathon, our adrenaline really kicked in for the presentation the next morning. We felt the weight lift off our shoulders as we strutted out of the room like Rocky Balboa, giving each other high-five’s and giggling like schoolchildren.

During that entire time we were at Wake Forest, we were followed around by camera crews, photographers and reporters. It was almost like they were paparazzi. I finally felt like a celebrity…except for the fact that I looked far less glamorous after only three hours of sleep a night and spending 30 of the last 36 hours in the same 10 ft-by-10 ft room gorging myself on the free chips and soda. The results of that ordeal can now be found online, much to my embarrassment and to the delight of my incredibly nosy family. (If you are also feeling nosy, you can check it out at www.marketingsummitlive.com.)

Before the competition, we had done so many case practices, sometimes spending up to 20 hours per week preparing for the event. This is why it was so sweet that we were able to place 1st at Wake Forest (the Wharton MBA team placed 3rd as well). We got a trophy, plaques, and a big check for $10,000. We decided that the check was the best part because, well, when else in life will you ever get a big check? It didn’t really even matter the amount that was written on it. The best part was taking it through the airport where everyone wanted to take a picture with the check, even the baggage security. Big checks make people look like big deals–moral of the story.