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Telfer MBA Students Helping the Ottawa Local SME Community with a one-of-a-kind Consult-a-thon

The MBA Student Association (MBASA) at Telfer School of Management came up with an event that is the first of its kind – a small and medium-sized (SME) Consult-a-thon focusing on providing fast-paced, strategic solutions to businesses in the local community.

Screenshot of Participants to an online eventOver the course of the weekend from July 17th to 18th, 46 participants including students, business representatives, Telfer faculty and experts, put in a total of more than 170 hours of case-cracking to help these businesses prosper and give back to the community. “It truly represents what the Telfer School of Management is all about - bringing together the creative energy and expertise of students, local businesses leaders, and industry experts to focus on a business challenge faced by local organizations,” said Professor Catherine Elliott, Director of the Telfer MBA program.

Revisiting Case Competitions Framework

Two graduate business student man working on computers in large classThe event has completely redesigned the usual case competition framework, with an emphasis on collaboration, community value, and social good. “When we came up with this framework, we believed the emphasis should be on quick solutions and community value rather than competitiveness.”, stated, Karthik Chivakula Venkata, one of the 6 organizing members of the event and a Telfer MBA student. He added: “We also believed that this would provide participants with a sneak peek at real-world business challenges as well as an opportunity to put their course learnings and talents to the test.”

Developing the Right Challenge

Due to the pervasive pandemic, today's SME enterprises confront some very genuine and severe issues that require innovative solutions. To be successful, both businesses and students require assistance and direction from local business community supporters.

With many local businesses showing interest in being part of the Consult-a-thon, the MBASA organizing team had to interact with each of the business owners to understand the cases better. Following a thorough brief, the team collaborated closely with the business owners and members of the MBASA’s executive team to co-create case documents that showed extensive, accurate, and up-to-date market information.

Intensive Case-Cracking

The Consult-a-thon included 4 teams composed of 4 students that would come to know of the businesses and the cases only during the event. The team then had to work on the cases provided by each participating business at different time during the event.

Businessman talking virtually through monitors in a large classroomThe most anticipated part of each business case was the case cracking. Each team had 4 hours to tackle the business document. In the first hour, the teams got to discuss their questions and ideas with the business owners and consulting experts for a proper understanding of the situation and problem statement. By the end of the allotted time, the teams had to share their final ideas and solutions to the business owners and expert panelists.

At the end their presentations, the panelists will provide feedback on the teams' presentations and insights on how to implement their ideas better.

For its first edition, the Telfer MBA students had the chance to work with dynamic local start-ups such as:

  • Shyne Eyewear, a small Ottawa social enterprise run by Enactus uOttawa which manufactures and sells sunglasses and blue-light glasses created from 100% recycled materials;
  • Ekidna Sensing, a biotech startup located in Ottawa that builds technology solutions for the legal Cannabis industry;
  • Empower'em is a grassroots social enterprise focused on providing a community and support to women of colour in order to help them develop their leadership skills, build confidence and achieve their personal and professional goals. 

All in for local businesses

Since it was not a traditional case competition, the panellists evaluated the ideas qualitatively, not quantitatively. The rubric focused on the clarity of identification and articulation of challenges, level of thorough analysis, creativity and feasibility to provide feedback, and recommendations to the participants.  

3 Businessman talking to each other around computers in a large classroom wearing masksThe real winners of the Consult-a-thon were – the local businesses, of course! Students gained valuable experience and received feedback on their ideas and presentation skills, but the businesses were the real winners, leaving the event with new insight and actionable solutions for their business challenges. Professor Elliott added: “It was a winning partnership for all, bringing innovative and practical solutions to these local businesses. Congratulations to the MBASA and the participating students! I was so impressed with the students’ initiative in launching this first-ever Telfer SME Consult-a-thon.”

A Successful Event

The event also got praises from the principal beneficiaries. “We needed a strategic direction and these presentations provided us with new creative ideas on how to tackle this problem. The recommendations the students provided were actionable and we are happy and excited about the entire event,” said Alexander Parsan, Project Manager at Shyne Eyewear, and Telfer BCom Accounting student.

Nicolas Boileau, CEO of Ekidna Sensing, also appreciated the outside expert view that the Telfer MBA students brought in. He looks forward to the next 6 months to one year to see where the company will move towards with the new ideas and strategy he collected over the weekend.

The committee is already planning the next edition of the event, which will take place in 2022 in a much bigger scale with even more local organizations. Any local businesses and students from all horizons with an interest in being part of this incredible initiative are invited to contact the MBA Student Association to discuss possible participation in next year’s competition via email.