April 1, 2010

C.U. Team Takes First Place in ‘Entrepreneur Challenge’

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The first time’s a charm.The Johnson School of Management team travelled to New Orleans from Mar. 20 to Mar. 27 to compete for the first time in the Entrepreneur Challenge and won first place –– beating out rival business schools Stanford, Northwestern, Univer­sity of California-Berkeley and Uni­versity of Chicago.The Idea Village Entrepreneur Challenge is an annual competition between top business schools that come together to show off their business ideas to world-famous and prominent leaders such as General Wesley Clark, a retired general of the U.S. Army and 2003 Democratic presidential candidate, and James Coulter, co-founder of Texas Pacific Group Capital. For the first time in history, Cornell’s Johnson School of Management was invited to the event and was challenged to present an entrepreneurial idea that would help revitalize and stimulate the economy of New Orleans, a city torn by the disastrous Hurricane Katrina in 2005.“This was an opportunity to learn what other entrepreneurs were doing. It was an opportunity to be surrounded by other entrepreneurs and immerse myself. Idea Village strives to promote new ideas and help rebuild the economy of New Orleans,” said Henry Parry-Okedan grad.At the Idea Village Entrepreneur Challenge, each team was given different problems to solve and required to present their ideas to four different panels who judged them on the amount of impact they could create. The team of eight Johnson MBA students was led by Marlon Nichols and Daniel Hest, and also included Kelly Dwyer, Padraic McConville, Lou Paik, Jamease Leonard, Matthew Donovan  and Parry-Okedan.The group’s idea revolved around reviving and improving the marketing and business strategies of a software service product, Schedulist, which has worked to improve healthcare facilities through optimizing an institution’s resources and staffing levels.“It’s a tool that allows hospitals to make better use of their resources and allow nurses to have control over their own schedule,” Hest said.According to its founder, Christopher Laibe ’88, the service is useful for all different types of businesses because “it is very costly for any company to replace a lost worker.”Although confident of his product’s ability to improve businesses, Laibe fell into a business trough and needed a new and improved plan to attract his customers. This is where the Johnson team came in.The Johnson team reconstructed Laibe’s business strategy by suggesting changes in his market segment, sales and marketing structure, and pricing models. By refocusing his target market towards acute hospital care instead of long-term care, they were able to discover a lot of sales potential for his product.In addition, they improved the software’s sales and marketing structure by making the product more customer-focused rather than feature-focused. This enabled them to make their product more appealing to their customers, they said.The third approach was changing its pricing model from a low-cost approach to a value-based model. By conducting a competitive price analysis, the Johnson team found that the product was actually worth more than what it had been sold for and suggested Laibe to sell his product at a higher price.In the end, the team’s hard work paid off.Schedulist is now attracting more consumers and growing more profits than ever before.Laibe added, “In the short term, [the Idea Village Entrepreneur Challenge] accelerated the project by being extremely energetic and creative. They shot me out of a cannon, they helped revitalize my business plans, identify many prospects for the business and customers. It reenergized me as an entrepreneur.”The project’s contribution to the development of New Orleans is seen through its long-term service in retaining employees and attracting new workers into the city.“It draws different talents to the city, broadening the view of New Orleans as a visionary business,” said Risa Mish, director of the Leadership Skills Program at the Johnson School and advisor to the Johnson team for the Challenge. The team ultimately hopes that the company is successful for Laibe, but also will positively affect the city of New Orleans.“As [Laibe’s] company becomes more and more successful, it will create jobs for New Orleans which is a big benefit,” Dwyer said.Members of the team emphasized that the competition reinforced lessons they learn in their business classes with real world experience.“It gave me more confidence in the three things we uniquely focused on at Johnson –– analytical thinking, team leadership, and authenticity,” Mish said. “I think these were the three things that made this team successful. This team was the most cohesive, and gave the most logically coherent presentation that resonated with the audience.”

Original Author: Sandy Do