Team Daniels Uses Ski Industry Insights to Win National Diversity Case Competition

Fifth place went to the University of Washington. Fourth went to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

A team from Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver had already beaten Georgetown, Penn State and UC Berkeley to reach the finals of the National Diversity Case Competition, a feat in itself.

But now, as the judges revealed the winners, dramatically, one by one, in reverse order, Amina Penn’s heart raced: “Once they made it into the top three, it was like, ‘Oh my God. We are up there.

Third place: University of Iowa.

Second place: University of Michigan.

“I jumped out of my chair,” said Jeffrey Brothers, an assistant teaching professor who coached the Daniels team. “When I hear [who took] second place, I knew we had won. We were the only ones left. »

They felt like underdogs, but undergraduate business students Alisa Sautter, Emily Winn, Preeti Saldanha and Penn won the top prize of $7,500.

“I think it was a sense of shock and pride that as a team at the University of Denver we were able to accomplish something on this scale,” Winn said.

The case competition, sponsored by Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, brought together 35 teams from the nation’s top business schools. Students are faced with a real problem to solve for a real world business.

This year, the competition put teams of students to work for 3M. Their mission: to find a way to increase adoption of robotics and automation for minority-owned small businesses while advancing equity in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). ). Specifically, teams were asked to focus on 3M’s abrasive systems division, which specializes in robotic grinding and polishing technologies.

“None of us entered the competition knowing anything about robotic automation and [we knew] absolutely nothing on abrasives,” Sautter said. “So I would say a lot of what we were doing was figuring out exactly what it was. There were so many different parts that four girls from Denver, Colorado had no idea.

What they understood was Colorado’s ski industry, which is notably dominated by whites and men. As part of their extensive research, the team zeroed in on a Telluride company that manufactures skis.

“We took it to a very grassroots level and I think that resonated with the judges,” Winn said. “They appreciated us taking this big conceptual idea and coming out with something tangible.”

For months, the students pored over documents, conducted interviews, and combed through financial statements to create their solution. The initiative they proposed, which they called “3Mpower,” employed a team of small business liaisons to connect with new businesses and explain abrasive technology.

Since minority-owned businesses often struggle to find funding, the Daniels team also encouraged liaisons to connect potential clients with grant opportunities. Meanwhile, to underscore 3M’s commitment to the cause, the students suggested changing the company’s website, mission, vision statement and marketing materials to highlight minority profiles.

To promote equity in STEM, the team proposed setting up technical workshops for underrepresented groups. More education, they felt, could help close the existing wage gap between demographic groups.

“This diversity [aspect] was extremely fascinating,” Penn said. “Being able to compete on a topic that is more prevalent in our society and raise awareness about that was a great opportunity – to take different perspectives and know what a business needs to achieve those goals.”

The team’s final presentations were part of a weekend-long virtual event that also included workshops, talks and networking opportunities with a litany of marquee corporate sponsors. For Winn, these offers alone make case competitions an invaluable experience.

“Even if you don’t end up winning competitions, these are still amazing ways to meet employers, amazing ways to work with top-notch students, and [incredible ways] to hone your public speaking, data analysis and presentation skills that you just won’t get in the classroom,” she said.

Penn agrees: “It’s a real-world experience without committing to an internship,” she says. “It’s a taste of real life before embarking on the business world after graduation.”

Donald E. Patel