How 2 Win the Case Competition

One of the hazards of being dean, is that you lose track of the academic calendar.  My job doesn’t have the cycle of classes starting and ending that the marks the passage of time for faculty and students.  One year, Spring Break passed and I didn’t even notice: Even the empty parking lots didn’t tip me off. But I have come to know when the Great Case Competition is at hand by the large number of students outside my office in suits nervously practicing their part of the team presentation just before entering class to pitch their ideas.

It has been a ritual in the College for some time now that every student’s last act before they graduate is to compete in the Great Case Competition.  This semester we will declare a winner on Friday. The preliminaries are already done and I suspect many teams got through the early rounds by having a novel idea and good platform skills.  As I have written before, whether you know it or not, everyone is in sales. Good platform skills gives you a leg up on the competition.

But the last two rounds of the case competition, especially the finals, is a bit of a different egg. Faculty, for the most part, are idea people.  They spend their whole lives looking for new and interesting ways to look at things.  Sometimes you can win over faculty judges with a novel, yet untested idea.  But the case competition finals are judged by business people.  They favor  numbers over ideas: after all it’s about making money, stupid.  They also favor simplicity over complexity.  I am reminded of an article several years ago by the President of Pixar who noted that he believed an average idea that was well executed was much better than a great idea with so-so execution.

Take heed contests. To win the competition, you will need to speak the language of seasoned business people. So don’t tell them what you “feel” the company should do. Show the judges that the numbers tell you that your proposal is a good investment: this is an exercise in data-driven decision-making.  And then show them how easy your proposed plan is to implement.  The simpler it is to implement the plan, the more likely the company will reap the numbers you project.  The simplest plan with the most appealing financials is the one most likely to win the competition.

Good luck to all the teams as they prepare this week.  It is your last chance to shine here at UCF before you shake my hand as you walk across that stage and into your career.


Sometimes life deals you a situation that can best be described as irony. This current round of the UCFBusiness Failure Competition experienced a failure on the part of the app we use to manage the voting for our finalists.  On Friday we were unable to account for what appears to be a significant number of votes and the vendor has FAILED to find those votes.

So we need to take a fallback position and move forward from this ironic failure.

I am going to give each of the finalists a letter of recommendation for their efforts and engagement. In addition, with the votes we can count, there is a razor thin difference between Logan Braun and Lisa Mazza, so each of them will receive $500. Also, my staff and I reviewed the YouTube videos and found that Hannah Durham far and away had the most views on her video, so I will be awarding her $500.

The UCFBusiness Failure Competition is designed to illustrate the important life lesson that we succeed only through a series of failures that teach us how to improve on our performance. My hope is that everyone that enters this event has an opportunity to see and experience that lesson.  Thank you to all the students who entered this year and a special thanks to our finalists for their perseverance and engagement.

Cameron, I think this Joust thing has Legs

Friday was the finals of this year’s Joust.  Although the Joust is sixteen years old, there were plenty of “firsts” at this year’s event.  It was the first time we had an entry from a rocket scientist. Our neighbors from the other side of the hallway came with two new toys: a low cost simulator and a nano-engineered product.  All in all, it was our most tech-intensive finals to date.  And then there was the economics student with an idea for a bra subscription service. She won our first ever audience favorite vote, while the boys with the simulation platform won the minds of the judges.

But the biggest story of this year’s Joust may have been the size of the audience.  We filled BA- 107, the entire atrium, and the Center for Entrepreneurship.  The later two venues saw the event via live streaming.  All in all, more than 450 students saw the Joust for the very first time.  It was our biggest audience by far and BA-1 was bustling .  As I explained to the attendees, success in the Joust requires students to embrace all of the qualities we want them to develop during their time with us: a willingness to get out of their comfort zone, take risks, collaborate with people from different disciplines and use real-time data to make decisions.  You can’t win the Joust or succeed in business without these traits.

Now that you have seen your fellow students in action young Knights, rise up and accept the challenge.  Get an idea, seek out some talented partners  (you know those people you are meeting at all of our events), start something, and visit the Blackstone LaunchPad now. Next year, it is your turn to Joust.

A Visit from the Citronaut?

Easter may be over, but Renee Giron (our lead student ambassador this semester) and I will be making visits around BA 1 and BA 2 this week bringing gifts of good news to faculty and staff who were nominated for one of our Dean’s Excellence Awards.

Almost sixty students nominated a faculty or staff member for an award based on an exchange that transformed them, encouraged them to get out of their comfort zone,  take a risk or view the world differently.  These moments form the foundation of our  culture of engagement in the college; one designed to help students develop the qualities necessary to compete in today’s marketplace. To emphasize the importance of these interactions, we will be visiting classes wherever possible to let the faculty or staff member know that their students believe that they are doing meaningful work that impacts the lives of others. We would appreciate it if you would give them a hardy round of applause when we make our announcement.

I can tell you from experience that this kind of acknowledgement from students beats a visit from the Easter Bunny for faculty and staff any day of the week.  I for one, have always found that giant bunny to be a bit terrifying and question its motives in bringing me fattening candy eggs.  Renee. on the other hand, is tiny and like me, genuinely believes in the transformative power of higher education: Making these visits will be affirming for both of us.  Maybe I can even convince her to break out the Citronaut costume for the occasion and start a new tradition. You game Renee?

While Renee and I are visiting classes, members of the Dean’s Advisory Board will be busy reading all of the nominations and selecting winners to be recognized at our awards ceremony on April 16th at 4pm in the Fairwinds Alumni Center.  They will also be giving awards to students who excelled at risk-taking, data-driven decision-making and cross-disciplinary collaboration. It is sure to be a great event.  Hope to see you there.