Chris Kim, MBA ’15, describes the long but successful road to an exciting win at this year’s global case competition, the mai Business Challenge @ Sasin, in Bangkok, Thailand.
by Chris Sungjoo Kim, MBA ‘15
It was a long and intense journey I walked with my teammates: Margaret Wu MBA ’15, Abhijeet Bais MBA ’15, Brennan Duty MBA ’15, and Stephane Corgie (Cornell Post-Doc). And I would proudly say that was one of the most rewarding and memorable experiences during my apprenticeship at Johnson.
The journey began in mid-October when Mr. Richard Coyle, Executive Director of the Emerging Market Institute at Cornell’s Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, presented an opportunity. He offered me the chance to compete with a business idea addressing global issue(s) in an international case competition at the Sasin Graduate Institute of Business Administration at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand. Although I was the last person to join the team, I instantly sensed what awaited ahead would be be exciting!
Together with a proven principle and technical knowledge from Stephane and business savviness and winning experience from Margaret, Abhijeet, and Brennan, our team – UMA Bioseed – was off to good start. Our business idea was a seed coating technology which enables advancement in seed protection against bacteria, fungi, and virus during its germination phase. No other technologies are available to protect a seed from all three concurrently. In order for the team to compete as one of the 16 semi-finalists in the mai Bangkok Business Challenge @ Sasin in Thailand, the team first needed to be qualified and selected purely based on a business plan. Meetings took regularly at both Sage Hall and Weill Hall. In addition to our own researches and studies, we conducted a number of phone interviews with industry experts to seek their inputs, validate our technology, estimate market potentials, and understand the current industry more comprehensively. Also, the team reached out to the members of a previous Johnson team who successfully competed in the business challenge in 2014. Two supportive Johnson alumni – Juan Diego Alonso MBA ’14 and Stephanie Hsi MBA ’14 – became our mentors and helped the team with processes. With their comments and feedbacks, the team was able to submit a strong business plan.
48 teams from 18 countries submitted their business ideas and only 16 teams were invited to compete in Thailand. 16 teams were further grouped into 4 groups of 4 teams competing each other for the final round for 6 spots. And only one winning team was selected.
The team traveled 24 hours to land at BKK Airport for 3 nights and 4 days of long competition. Thailand was exactly 12 hours ahead of the U.S. and the jet lag was surely adding extra bumps to our road.
The first day was spent mostly by preparing a booth for public presentation. Each team was given a booth to design with creativity for their team’s business idea. The booth was important for 1) one team was selected for award for its booth presentation and 2) booth presentation was part of the overall judging criteria. While the rest of the team relaxed and enjoyed setting up the booth, Brennan was busy under pressure for one major competition of the first day: a 90-second pitch. Each team sent one representative onto a stage and he/she gave a pitch about a team’s business idea for 90 seconds. The rule on timing was strict and not a single additional second was given if the pitch was not finished. Brennan was calm and confident on the stage, and delivered our business idea in perfect manner, but the judges were more drawn to a female participant who was lucky enough to be randomly selected to go first.
The second day was the semi-final round. The team presented before 5 judges who were participating as mentors, and a feedback session followed immediately after. Many constructive feedbacks were offered and each member paid extra attention to catch what the judges were looking for, and how to improve our presentation for the next round. Our group included two other teams which many thought had the potential to win. When the rest of UMA Bioseed was busy in a study room, preparing in case of a potential play-off round, I was anxiously waiting in a conference room to hear the announcement of 4 semi-final round winners. I was broadcasting the announcement to the team in a study room 3 floors down. As each team advancing to the final round was being announced, I was texting in the group chat one by one. When the Johnson team was announced to advance to the final-round, my fingers were shaking with excitement. Yes, UMA Bioseed was advancing to the final round! The rest of the day was spent incorporating the comments from judges from the semi-final round, and strategically revamping our deck. Everyone knew that the night would be long, but we were ready to spin our wheels.
The third day was the final round. 6 teams were competing. Each team stood on the stage before 5 judges. The teams were given the first 5 minutes to present an idea, followed by 25 minutes which could be spent in any manner as deemed fit by the judges. UMA Bioseed went second to the last, and the team was ready for the presentation and as well as tough questions from the judges. I still remember very vividly of the 30 minutes standing with team members on the stage. Each question was asked boldly and each answer was provided carefully and deliberately. As we stepped down the stage, I sensed of winning with confidence! The ceremony followed immediately after the final round. No names were announced until the very end, and as each team from the group of finalists was announced for various awards, the team’s hope and excitement grew.
As soon as the announcer read out, “And the first runner-up is New Hope Ecotech from the Kellogg School of Management”, we knew that meant the winner was UMA Bioseed from Johnson!
The journey was long, intense, and sleep deprived. But it was all worth it! One of the best experiences at Johnson, I would proudly say. Again, this was all possible because of the great team: each team member was very talented, experienced, worked hard and knew how to have fun! Also, on behalf of our team, I would like to thank Mr. Richard Coyle from EMI for his guidance and Mr. Rob Canizares for the financial support to represent Johnson and the Emerging Markets Institute.
I hope the legacy continues and would certainly like to see a defending winning team from Johnson arise next year!