Recap: The 13th Annual E-Business Case Competition (Plus Tips From The Judges)

The 13th Annual E-Business Case Competition was held on Thursday, April 12th, and by all accounts was a tremendous success. The event brought students and business professionals together to tackle tough questions and evaluate the future of the high tech marketplace. This year’s case centered around the eReader ecosystem and what areas promised the most growth.

What You Need To Know

Case Competitions, basically the Thunderdome of the Haas School

If the concept of case competitions is new to you, here’s what you need to know: When case competitions begin, student teams can register to participate. These teams must contain at least one student who is not a business major. The teams then receive information on the case that will be the focus of the competition, they then can decide if they wish to continue or drop from the competition. The teams that stay on will create a presentation slide deck and submit it for review. This year there were a total of 53 teams who signed up, and 25 of them ultimately submitted slide decks. After the decks are reviewed, three teams are chosen to present their cases at the competition. A panel of business professionals judges the presentations. For the E-Business Case Competition, the judges are from Cisco Systems and Deloitte Consulting.  The teams have 15 minutes to present their case, followed by 5 minutes of Q&A from the judges. After all teams have presented, the judges deliberate and then decide which team will win the competition.

More information on Haas’ Case Competitions can be found by clicking here.

The first prize for this competition was not just a collection of Deloitte branded products, but also an exclusive Deloitte office tour, lunch with a Partner, and a meeting with a panel of practitioners. Arguably the most exciting prize was given to all three finalist teams. For making it to the Case Competition, all participants would be eligible to chosen for Haas’ International Case Competition Team. The International Team travels the world, expenses paid, and participates in case competitions across the globe.

Haas’ most recent International Case Competition Team which traveled to Hong Kong (From left to right: Xumin Hu, Yiqun Laura Yang, Yingting Tang, Junyang Jenny Jiang)

The teams that competed were made up of the following students:

TEAM #1: Ryan Liu, Lawrence Liu, Prashanth Vijay, and Sumer Joshi.

TEAM #2: Deiya Pernas, Victor Santos, Christine To, and Jeremy Watson.

TEAM #3: Arian Khansari, Nellie Tan, Laura Yang, and Kevin Yu.

Team #2 was unique, as it is the first team in recent history composed of Haas Transfer Students. In the past, clubs and fraternities have dominated Case Competitions, so the presence of this team was a great display of what Transfer Students are capable of. Their presence is an inspiration to Transfer Students at Haas, and those whom will one day attend Haas, that they too can make it to the final round.

The Presentations And Q&A

Content Providers like McGraw-Hill may be doing well, but piracy threatens their success

The case the teams were working with was looking at areas of the eReader market that were worth investing in, and that had the most opportunity for new business. The three areas of the market for eReaders that were examined were: The Device Manufacturers (E.g. Nook, Amazon), Content Providers (E.g. Pearson, McGraw-Hill), and Intermediaries (E.g. Apple, Zinio). Every team agreed that the best opportunities were to be found with Intermediaries.

Team #1 came up with an idea that merged social media and applications to create an innovative eBook interface. Team #2 used a case study on the company Aptara to explain the potential benefits of investing in Intermediaries and showcased evidence that indicates the sector is already proving to be successful. Team #3 broke down the focus on Intermediaries into two groups: Advertisers, and Content Providers, ultimately settling on investing in Content Providers due to Google’s dominant position in the advertising sector. While most teams were able to finish their presentations in the time allotted, Team #1 unfortunately was unable to complete their entire presentation, hitting the fifteen-minute limit right before they reached their conclusion.

Team #1 getting ready to take on the world

After making their case, it was time for the judges to ask questions. Team #1 was asked about how the recent actions by the Department of Justice, in regards to price fixing, would impact the eReader industry. The team responded by explaining that they still saw growth for Intermediaries, and cited Hulu and Spotify as examples. The judges also questioned the team on the Gigabyte-based pricing scheme they had proposed, and how to keep people subscribed to their business model. To that the team cited the need for a data cap and that retaining subscribers would be done through the production of new/different applications and features.

Team #2 made Case Competition history with its transfer student background

Team #2 was asked to explain why they chose to focus on Aptara, and what industries/consumers Aptara should focus on. Their reason for focusing on Aptara was that it helps content providers migrate into new value chains, which made them a powerful and important type of intermediary worth looking at. In terms of industries/consumers to focus on, Team #2 suggested that the eTextbook industry had strong growth potential and was worth further investigation.

Aptara, an exemplar of what Intermediaries can achieve

Additionally, the judges asked for the team to clarify what they meant when talking about fragmented competition in the industry during their presentation. Team #2 responded by saying that, due to fast technological advances, firms were having to change/adapt at a rapid pace, leaving them in different areas of the market.

Team #3 turns slide deck building into an art form

For Team #3, the judges wanted to know what areas they would look at going forward, and what risks piracy posed to their plan and monetization strategy. The team suggested that future technological advancements were worth looking into, and that due to piracy they were focused on generating revenue through targeted advertisements.

Google, the dominant force in online advertising

The team was also questioned on what they anticipated the size of the market to be for platform providers, and the next steps were for those providers. The answer provided from the team proposed that, with so many players in the market, it was difficult to pin down a general market size, as each player had a hand in a distinguishably different market. They also reiterated their point that the next steps for platform providers was to shift focus away from advertising to avoid competition with Google.

The Results

With the presentations completed and questions answered, the judges left the room to decide on which team would be this year’s winner. After fifteen minutes the judges returned to give feedback and announce the results.

The judges praised the competitors for a job well done. They touched on the importance of articulation, and how recommendations need to be clear. They also mentioned that they wanted to see more discussion on what businesses would do to combat piracy.

Piracy should always be considered when evaluating investments in technology

Other areas that deserved more time were: revenue and monetization models, interactions between multiple ecosystems, and strategies to maintain customers. The teams were also given personal feedback, touching on the strengths and weaknesses of their presentations.

With evaluations completed, it was time to announce the winner:

Team #1.

The room filled with applause as all three teams and judges stood at the front of the room for pictures and awards. With that, the 13th Annual E-Business Case Competition drew to a close, and would go down as one for the history books.

The wonderful judges and brilliant competitors take a moment to celebrate another successful Case Competition

Advice From The Judges

Before departing, the judges were kind enough to share some Case Competition tips for anyone interested in participating in the future:

  • Jokes can help make your presentations memorable.
  • If jokes aren’t your thing, at least try making some kind of connection with the jury. Posing questions for them to consider, or even just shaking their hands, can help a lot.
  • The quality of, and information on, your slides count. Not only do to they get you into the competition, they can be the difference between being a winner and being a finalist.
  • Always include sources when you use data on your slides. Always.
  • Smooth transitions between team members and topics in the presentation can be just as helpful as a strong slide deck.
  • International analysis is important, but it is often overlooked.
  • Limit the amount of time you spend arguing against courses of action, your focus and time should be spent on the decision you want to go with.
  • Often the jury is playing a specific role in the presentation. For example, you may be presenting to them as if they were investors, cater to that, and work it into the framework of your presentation.

By following these tips, who knows, maybe you’ll be able to win the next Case Competition.

Special thanks to:

The Judges:

Deloitte: Tom Galizia, Joost Krikhaar, Sandy Ono.

Cisco: Usha Andra, Arielle Sumits, and Amy Hu (Cisco Contact).

The Film Crew: Hannah Yang, Clayton Yan, Vincent Chen, and John Chang.

Case Competition Volunteers: Andrew Yassa, Omosalewa Adeyemi, and Corey Elliot

And of course The Haas School of Business, Schlinger Family Foundation, Cisco Systems, and Deloitte Consulting for hosting this event.

EDIT: Thanks to our fantastic film crew I’ve added pictures of this years teams as well as the judges.

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