May, 2011 | Mays Impacts

The Mays Business School Summer Learning Seminar, themed “Business in a Turbulent Economy,” will be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, June 11. This event is free and open to the public, but seating is limited and registration is required.

Register now to reserve a seat for this impactful lifelong learning event. The registration deadline is June 7.

Keynote presentations include “The Economic Outlook for Investors and Business Decision Makers” by Mark Dotzour, chief economist and research director of the Real Estate Center, and “Domestic and Global Economies and the Implications for Human Resources” by Asghar Zardkoohi, the T.J. Barlow Professor of Management.

Other sessions are:

  • Demystifying the Federal Reserve: Understanding its Impact on Interest Rates and the Economy
    David Blackwell
    Associate Dean for Graduate Programs and RepublicBank/James W. Aston Professor of Finance
  • PowerPoint is Not Evil: A Fresh Perspective on a Powerful (But Often Abused) Business Tool
    John Krajicek
    Executive Professor, Assistant Director of Business Communications Studies for the Graduate Programs Office
  • CHINDIA: Emerging Business Power
    Venkatesh Shankar
    Coleman Chair Professor in Marketing
  • Supply Chain Disruptions: Is Your Company Ready to Handle Them?
    Xenophon Koufteros
    Associate Professor of Information & Operations Management, Jenna and Calvin R. Guest Professor

For more information, visit mays.tamu.edu/sls2011.

Categories: Texas A&M

Life has thrown me a softball. As an ethics commentator, the Jim Tressels of the world are red meat. He has made an almost unimaginable series of ethical blunders in the whole Ohio State fiasco, leading to his resignation as the Buckeyes’ head football coach. And the “leadership” and “oversight” of those at the university could only be characterized as indefensible. Some of the statements that have been made seem like the definition of “lack of institutional control.”

But who wants to cast the first stone? One of the major reasons for the moral agnosticism that characterizes big-time collegiate sports is that every coach, every athletic director, and every president knows that they are one e-mail away from a disaster that draws the NCAA to campus. I am very grateful not to read about these things regularly around here, but I am not naïve. I know from speaking to student-athletes that there is a compliance environment that sometimes seems overbearing to them. But it is there for a reason. And who is to say it will be effective tomorrow? We have failed here before.

No one in intercollegiate sports wants to cut off the lifeline, which is access to student-athletes when they are in high school. And that environment is arguably getting worse, not better. A recent ESPN report on the 7-on-7 summer football leagues that have proliferated in recent years makes it clear that they are the avenue to being recruited by the top football schools. They are run by folks that are, for the most part, not high school coaches. They are the equivalent of the AAU leagues that have taken over the placement of high school basketball players. And the “coaches” often end up being channels that college football coaches must use to have a chance to sign a particular player. That can lead to booster involvement, side benefits for student-athletes, and hiring go-betweens into coaching and other roles at universities.

In other words, it’s a market. You can use pejorative terms like “meat market” if you like, but it’s a market. Milton Friedman, one of the great defenders of markets, still insisted that participants in markets had to “play by the rules.” But you can make a lot of money if you don’t, and you can even feel good about yourself if you play before they even make the rules, as folks running the 7-on-7 leagues are doing right now. Talking “duties” and “responsibility” in this environment is laughed at by the markets’ participants.

But when you fail to self-regulate, you always get regulation, and the NCAA is cracking down in unprecedented ways. USC will not just lose post-season eligibility for two years for its recruiting of Reggie Bush, but it will sacrifice ten football scholarships for each of the next three years, taking them from 25 to 15. Good luck to head coach Lane Kiffin staying on the straight and narrow during those years. It could happen, because he has a straight arrow athletic director in Pat Haden, and because USC could realistically receive the death penalty for another serious infraction. But when you can only take 15, you had better take the right 15, and that will introduce dangerous temptations.

It is clear that the NCAA no longer believes that big-time programs will hold to a duty to protect the university’s reputation, so they are changing the consequences. I would not be surprised to see them come down very hard on Ohio State, which has protected its coach much as Tennessee did basketball coach Bruce Pearl after he knowingly broke rules.

Many people have suggested paying athletes in order to solve the problem. But this will simply change the price of the market; it will not eliminate it. And the same types of differential incentives will be offered to get the next Reggie Bush to enroll, over and above what the athletes are paid. This is assuming Title IX issues could be worked out about which athletes are paid, and how much.

As cheaters in business have found, modern technology, including e-mail and texting, has made it much easier to build a case against you when you are lying and covering up. In the absence of any sense of duty in intercollegiate athletics, the NCAA will just ratchet up the consequences to go along with the increased probability of being caught. And self-interested young people who have been on the take often like to tell their story after they are no longer relevant, as Ohio State is currently finding out, which will help the enforcers. But in intercollegiate athletics, as in the business world which is usually the focus of my attention, the incentives to win and the money tied to winning are so strong that the NCAA has no choice but to step up the penalties significantly.

As I said, life threw me a softball this week. But in a world that is sadly unable to self-correct, and in which no one is listening, I can’t bring myself to lecture folks one more time. I think I will just turn around and walk back to the dugout.

Categories: Bottom Line Ethics

I have been in the back yard too much lately, pulling weeds and putting down mulch. But the biggest problem has been my lawn. I don’t take great pride in my grass, but I try not to let it become a basis for neighbors to storm my castle bearing torches. A large section of my lawn has a burned out appearance, which I attributed at first to the lack of rain and a badly functioning sprinkler system. But the news is worse; I have grubworms.

What a name—grubworms. It must be a bummer to have a compound name where each half is a really negative word. When they get into your lawn, all you can do is nuke them and lay down new grass. So this past weekend I bought half a pallet of grass and started putting it down. This is way more work than I really wanted to do, but I didn’t have much choice. When I was done, what came to mind in looking at my back yard was a badly fitting toupee. There were parts of the lawn that clearly needed more living grass coverage, and parts that had lumps that should not be there.

But it seems to me that watching people try to recover their integrity after a public fall is much like watching someone whose hairpiece falls short of the ideal. This is particularly true when they seem ambitious as well. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is discovering this as he puts himself forward as a presidential candidate. If he implies any change in a position, as Gingrich has with requiring Americans to purchase health insurance, people roll their eyes and say, “There he goes again.”

This may be less true with entertainment figures; Arnold Schwarzenegger is about to find out. But it is still awkward to think about Eliot Spitzer being a talk show host rather than the governor of New York. And trying to see Tiger as the good guy becomes a bit tiresome. His string of injuries, which prompted his drop from the world’s top ten golfers for the first time in 14 years, has almost served as a relief from constant discussion of his character and attitude.

I have concluded that though folks largely want to read these stories, they quickly move to a stage where they do not care about these people any more. It is really difficult to gin up the emotion time after time that would somehow make these people an example not to be followed. Instead, they are a news item, and then, history.

Andy Fastow of Enron fame has been transferred to a halfway house prior to his release from prison later this year. He is 49. What hope does he have to regain his reputation? Perhaps more than you think. It is difficult enough to find people who finish well among the general populace, much less among those whose lives have cratered. But there are exceptions. Chuck Colson, famous for being one of Richard Nixon’s hatchet men and the first member of the administration to go to prison for Watergate, bounced back from his prison term to found Prison Fellowship, an evangelical organization that has had significant influence for good. He went to prison in his mid-40’s, and he will turn 80 later this year. Perhaps Fastow will have a similar experience.

But it is not easy. Grubworms eat the roots, and that’s why my work in the back yard is so painful and unsatisfying. Who wants to stay after it year after year, when it would be much easier to move to a condo? (I have suggested this on more than one occasion to my wife.) It would be very difficult to do it to please others. There probably has to be a genuine inner transformation that withstands the catcalls, the snickers, the derision, and the lingering bitterness that big mistakes bring.

Because, in the end, recovered integrity is just like a badly fitting toupee. People may smile and treat you the same. But, despite their best intentions, they can’t help but notice.

Categories: Bottom Line Ethics

Texas A&M again had the most candidates of any school in the state in the first quarter (266 as compared to 191 from the University of Houston and 175 from UT-Austin), and Mays students had the highest overall pass rate for schools with more than 5 candidates at approximately 78 percent. Baylor was second at 74 percent and UT third, with 73 percent. The national pass rate for the quarter was approximately 42.5 percent, according to a report for the first quarter of 2011 by the Texas State Board of Public Accountancy.

“It is also notable that four of the top ten candidates in the state for the past 12 months are Texas A&M graduates,” says Jim Benjamin, head of the accounting department at Mays.

Benjamin attributes the students’ success on the exam to Mays’ curriculum, which is structured to include time to prepare for the exam, and the quality and motivation of the students. Success on the test helps graduates secure jobs afterward, he says.

“I continue to believe that our remarkable success on the exam is a result of the quality of our faculty and courses, the ability and work ethic of our students, and the structure of our program,” he says.

A significant number of fifth-year students in the Professional Program at Mays took the BEC (Business Environment and Concepts) and FAR (Financial Accounting and Reporting) sections in the first quarter. The Texas A&M pass rates for those sections for the quarter were 90.9 percent for BEC (175 candidates) and 82.6 percent for FAR (195 candidates).

Categories: Departments

With more than 25 years of experience in the insurance, venture capital and investment company industries, Jeff Elder ’82 has problem solving down to a science. On a recent campus visit, the account executive for the International Business Exchange Corporation shared his set of five steps to resolve any difficult issue, whether in business or in life with Mays undergraduate students.


“Networking is critical for finding a job and advancing your career,” Jeff Elder ’82 told students. “…after all, you don’t find the good jobs in the newspaper, but through networking.” (view more photos)

“In any situation where you have conflict, these will help,” he advises. When it comes to business negotiations, skills like this are vital. “Even though the deals are over money, there are still people and emotions involved.”

  1. Ignore the problem. Elder says that by ignoring the problem in the beginning, you are preventing it from disrupting your life.
  2. Deny you have a problem. In this step, you recognize that the problem exists but deny the fact that it poses a conflict or that it involves you in any way.
  3. Blame others for the problem. In using others as a scapegoat, he notes, you can examine the conflict from a detached and neutral position.
  4. Find solutions for the problem. Elder says that while steps one through three are easy to get stuck in, moving to this next crucial step is extremely important if you want to solve a conflict.
  5. Implement solutions to solve the problem. “This is where management skills take over,” Elder attests. If you can successfully reach this step, you can remedy any conflict in business and in life outside the workplace.

Elder says his experience at Texas A&M and his degree in accounting helped prepare him for the business world by teaching him these good negotiation and conflict resolution skills. “The education [at A&M] is far superior than I think you can get anywhere,” he claims, adding he is amazed at the current students’ knowledge base and developing social skills. These traits will help them immensely when it comes to networking after graduation, he says.

“Networking is critical for finding a job and advancing your career. It is extremely important to develop your relationships with people outside of your industry and in the business community; after all, you don’t find the good jobs in the newspaper, but through networking.”

Elder says his current role as a business broker sometimes seems more like a counselor. “A business is only worth what someone will pay for it,” he says.

In smaller-scale mergers and acquisitions, Elder advises sellers to make their businesses attractive and develop a solid exit strategy.

Since 1979, International Business Exchange Corporation has been a full-service business brokerage and mergers and acquisitions firm providing customized service to both sellers and buyers in many southern states, including Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, Tennessee and Alabama. Elder’s operational and management background provides insight and solutions to achieve bottom-line objectives, and his experience in the field and with this company has helped him to forge his five steps to problem solving.

Categories: Executive Speakers, Former Students

Today’s college students are tech savvy, knowing the ins and outs of social media and communicating on the fly. Still, those ol’ college professors know a thing or two for the young ones to learn. One Mays management professor brought Twitter into the classroom as a learning tool this semester. To her surprise, not many had used it.

Abbie Shipp
Shipp

Management Assistant Professor Abbie Shipp began using Twitter in the classroom during the spring semester with the honors sections of a course titled “The Management Process.”

Shipp said she added the tweets to seven classes, integrating feedback from about 10 executives who participated at least once.

“I wanted to see if we could introduce a new form of social media into the lectures that would both interest the students and create a “live’ dialog between our class and a variety of executives,” she explains. “I had no idea how it would work, so we called it “The Twitter Experiment.'”

She and her students brainstormed during class about questions to tweet (post) on Twitter. On the other end were several executives who agreed to be online during this time.

“This way, we can get their brainpower without them being here,” Shipp explains. “It’s a little more casual — a lot of students feel more free to ask questions in this format.”

The executives included business professionals such as Julian C. Dalzell, former vice president of U.S. human resources at Shell and current instructor at the Moore Business School at University of South Carolina; Shannon Navin, a marketing executive at Socius in Ohio; and Brittany Hardin “09, a business honors graduate from Mays who works as a project manager for a small start-up firm in Bryan.


Management Assistant Professor Abbie Shipp began using Twitter in the classroom during the spring semester with the honors sections of a course titled “The Management Process.”

Dalzell says he found the questions from the students insightful and specific, rather than general. “They prompted me to be clear about what I personally had experienced rather than floating around in theory, which can fascinate some but will not really serve them well once they hit the employment world,” he explains. “It would have been nice if we had seen some more dialog with them, e.g. if they had pushed back and given their own views versus always asking questions, but the media is not really that well suited to that, especially within the time constraints.”

He says it was easy to fall into conversation with the other professionals who were online. “I did indeed enjoy the conversations with the other tweeters, and gained good insights from them, as I always do listening to the experiences of others,” he says.

At the end of the semester, Shipp evaluated the use of Twitter in the classroom and encouraged her students to do the same.

Shipp says she was surprised by the differences in social media use inside and outside the classroom.

“The students didn’t want to tweet their own questions, which I found very interesting,” she says, adding that most of her students were not on Twitter before the semester started. “I expected students to all tweet individually from their phones; what I found was that they preferred to work more collectively by calling out questions for me to tweet.”

Lessons learned

Shipp shares a few lessons she and her students learned in the experiment:

  1. It was good to post questions at the beginning of class, then check back every 15 minutes updating with questions or comments. This allowed us to keep the pace of lecture we needed without devoting the whole class to watching for the next tweet. However, some students said they wished we could have devoted more time to Twitter so we wouldn’t have to read a stream of tweets and could be more real-time, reading them as they were posted. There were some students who just loved the experiment and really enjoyed trying out something different.
  2. Somewhat contrary to #1, I learned from the students’ feedback that not all of them like to multitask. I think we assume that all students are comfortable with technological multitasking because they have grown up with the Internet, instant messaging and text messaging, but some of my students said that they found it hard to go back and forth between lecture and Twitter. If I were to do it again, I would allow the lecture and class discussion to predominate on most days, with Twitter only on select days in which the dialog could be more of the focus. I believe this would enhance the learning of both those who like to multitask and those who do not.
  3. The students may have been more likely to tweet during class or even after class had there been an incentive to do so such as graded participation for tweets. Because it was an experiment, I wasn’t yet ready to make participation mandatory. But I think students would enjoy the process even more if they were a part of the conversation.
  4. I personally learned how hard it is to juggle two live audiences: the students in the classroom and the executives on Twitter. Further, we had to get through a certain amount of material each day and I always encourage class discussion … the end result was that we had a lot to do each day! Twitter may be better suited to an elective class in which you can dive deeper into the material.
  5. Finally, I learned that the executives had varied interests in the experiment. Some of them signed up for Twitter only for this experiment and grew to love it, others only tweeted when joining our class (and did so a bit tentatively), and still others wanted to join but their work schedules were too hectic. So, I spent a good deal of time managing the panel of executive tweeters. All in all, it was fantastic to see how many executives were willing to experiment with a new form of teaching.

Categories: Departments, Faculty, Students

Google is a resource for helping people find what they need, and a team of Mays students used the online tool to learn more about online marketing.

Students in Marketing Professor Manjit S. Yadav’s Strategic Internet Marketing class (MKTG 438) have been working with 14 local businesses as part of Google’s Online Marketing Challenge. As part of the semester-long challenge, each team received $200 from Google to help a local business use search-marketing — specifically, the Google AdWords platform — to drive more traffic to their websites.

Winners will be announced in July. “It’s a fun and smart initiative from Google, and this fits quite well with my teaching goals for this course,” Yadav says.

Advertisers using AdWords choose a few search terms related to their business, plus a daily budget and the amount they are willing to pay when someone clicks. When customers search one of the terms or keywords, their ads may appear next to the search results.

Winning teams and their professors in this global competition receive a trip to the Google Headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., to meet with the AdWords team. Regional winners and their professors receive a trip to a regional Google office.

Non-profit organizations whose teams win can receive grants from Google ranging from $5,000 to $15,000.

DRIVING ONLINE TRAFFIC

As part of the challenge, Mays students helped the following organizations:

  • Children’s Museum of Brazos Valley, Bryan (non-profit)
  • Messina Hof, Bryan
  • Seed Effect, Plano (non-profit)
  • Project Yogurt, Bryan
  • Tuscan Sun Coffee, Houston
  • Layne’s Chicken, College Station
  • Brooklyn Café, Houston
  • Northgate Vintage, College Station
  • Precise Sights, Dallas
  • Grace Care Nursing Center, Katy
  • Happy Yogurt, College Station
  • The Tattoo Consortium, Bryan
  • David Gardners Jewelers, Colleg Station
  • Picket Fence Properties, College Station

The Mays students gave presentations to show how much more traffic they were able to drive to these organizations’ websites.

In addition to being a great hands-on learning opportunity, Yadav says, the Google Challenge also helps a number of local businesses. And he considers using a marketing platform program such as AdWords more accountable because as a company, you know each dollar is being spent to attract a potential customer.

“These businesses—especially the non-profits—often do not have funds or the expertise to use online technologies to enhance their marketing activities. This is a real win-win for everyone,” Yadav says. “Working with nonprofits especially was very enjoyable because they are doing all these things to help people in our communities.”

Andrew Hall, vice president of the Grace Care Centers in Katy, Texas, thanked Yadav for allowing his students to participate in the competition.

“This project was a great success and over the past few weeks we have seen a dramatic improvement in not only our web traffic but our foot traffic in the buildings,” Hall wrote to Yadav. “This project was completed with great ideas and strategies in the business world, and I want to show my gratitude to the students who have helped us in our business development endeavors.”

Brittney Goldberg ’12, a member of the team that worked with the Children’s Museum of the Brazos Valley in downtown Bryan, says the exercise was one of many Mays brings to the students to provide real-world, challenging opportunities to help them gain greater insight into their selected fields.

“This is something that I have grown very fond of over my past three years, and I have learned a great deal from them,” Goldberg says. “With this class in particular, it really said something to me that our professor took the time to find this challenge that Google offers and apply it to our class. I didn’t necessarily perceive this project differently, but it did stand out to me how applicable this project was to my future learning and career environments.”

Additionally, she says, learning to use Google’s AdWords interface is a skill that may help differentiate her from other graduates in her field.

The biggest lesson she learned, she says, was how successful a marketing campaign can be as long as you take the time to communicate well with the client before, during and after the campaign. “We made a point to ask detailed questions concerning what they needed as an organization and what their biggest struggles were,” she says. “This gave us the opportunity to formulate an AdWords campaign that would be successful in helping them out with traffic to their website.

“We were able to see direct effects on The Children’s Museum, with statistics and personal client feedback, so it was very rewarding.

Fellow student Ben Peterson said working with a $200 budget from the largest online advertising platform “gave this project an immediate sense of credibility and potential.”

“Working with a robust platform like Google AdWords allowed our team to custom tailor our advertising solutions towards our target market using real-time data,” he added. “Furthermore, the use of real money inspired us to closely monitor our budget to ensure that we generated as many qualified leads as possible within our three week time frame.”

Peterson called the project one of the most interesting and thought-provoking during his college career, and said the project confirmed that online marketing is “an extremely powerful advertising medium with low barriers to entry and unlimited upside potential.”

Marketing major Cashel Moran ’12, said she felt the students took the project seriously because they were working with real money.

“With actual monetary stakes at hand, I felt that we knew we had the opportunity to really help a small company move into the technological world and expose them to online advertising that many of them had not had the knowledge or budget for,” Moran says. “It was a tremendous learning curve because many students had not used online advertising before but there was a constant driving force that since we had this budget we wanted to learn and excel to truly help a business and contribute to their marketing knowledge.”

The biggest lesson Moran says she learned from this challenge was the nuts and bolts of online advertising. “It takes practice and trials to learn what works and what does not, and a student can only do that with a real client and real pressures,” she explains. “Having to adjust a campaign and understanding what worked for the industry you were working with are such vital skills a student cannot learn anywhere else. Learning the ins and outs of Google AdWords was so important because it is a skill we can take to the real world that many have not been exposed to yet. It is a real-world application of our marketing program that will be one more advantage we have when entering the job market.”

The exercise also changed her perception of online marketing and social media. “Sometimes there is this perception that “If it goes online, everyone will see it,’ when in reality there is a struggle for small firms to compete against big corporations for advertising space. Also, the challenge of getting your ad to appear where you wanted was a challenge I would have never understood unless going through this project.

Categories: Departments, Students

Alina Sorescu, an associate professor of marketing at Mays Business School, and Sorin Sorescu, a professor and department head of the finance department, were winners in the Marketing Science Institute’s “Research Competition on Innovation.” They received a $7,500 grant to research their project titled “Epochal Innovation and Stock Market Bubbles.”

Alina Sorescu
Alina Sorescu

Sorin M. Sorescu, head of the finance department at Mays, said he and his wife plan to try to understand the relation between epochal innovations and stock market bubbles.

“The conventional wisdom is that epochal innovation causes bubbles, yet many prominent economic observers such as Allan Greenspan believe that it is in fact bubbles that allow innovation to take place, by providing cheap access to capital,” he explained.

“We plan to collect a comprehensive set of epochal innovations that have been introduced in the U.S. and UK since the 18th Century, as well as information on the diffusion of these innovations, and stock price data for firms involved in their commercialization,” he said. “We then plan to establish the causality between epochal innovation and bubbles — that is, we will seek to determine if there is a cause and effect relation between the two, or if perhaps another factor could explain why epochal innovations seem to coincide with stock market bubbles.”

A number of remarkable innovations in modern history appear to have been associated with bubbles in the prices of stocks, he said. Examples include technological innovations such as the internet revolution of the late 1990s, which was associated with a rapid rise and decline in the price of technology stocks, as well as financial innovations such as the securitization of subprime mortgage loans, associated with a rise and decline in the price of mortgage-backed securities during the latter part of 2000’s.

Sorin Sorescu
Sorin Sorescu

“These innovations all appear to share a common trait — they provide a major breakthrough in the advance of human knowledge, and a dominant source of sustained growth over long periods of time,” Sorin Sorescu said. Nobel Prize-winning economist Simon Kuznets refers to them as Epochal Innovations.

This research should help enhance the educational experience of Mays business students on several dimensions, Sorescu said, explaining that:

  • First, it exposes students, for the first time, to the concept of epochal innovation, its characteristics and its consequences.
  • Second, it gives them the tools to identify future stock market bubbles and understand that such “hot markets” can provide a cheap source of capital that can foster the next epochal innovation.
  • Third, it illustrates the importance of using historical data to advance our knowledge of the long-term consequences of innovation.

Ross Rizley, research director at the Marketing Science Institute, said he received 64 submissions for the competition — “more than we anticipated.”

“As a result, it has taken the competition review committee longer to evaluate all of the submissions than we had expected,” Rizley said at when announcing the winners. “And of course, given the large number of submissions, we received many more very high-quality proposals than we could possibly fund.”

The Sorescu team was one of eight competition winners, which received $7,500 grants to help support the research described in their proposals.

Categories: Faculty

Thanks to the efforts of Mays students, faculty, staff and corporate partners, every student at two local elementary schools received backpacks filled with educational games and books.
Thanks to the efforts of Mays students, faculty, staff and corporate partners, every student at two local elementary schools received backpacks filled with educational games and books. (view more photos)

Hundreds of Bryan youngsters received “summer fun” backpacks Wednesday when members of the Business Student Council at Mays Business School brought them to two Bryan elementary campuses. Every student at Fannin and Neal elementary schools received backpacks filled with educational games and books.

After lunch, free ice cream was given to each Fannin and Neal student, thanks to Project Mays. Each Fannin and Neal teacher also received a goody bag with a gift certificate inside. The gifts were made available through donations from Mays faculty and staff and corporate sponsorships.

This is the fourth year Bryan ISD has been selected for this special event.

“Over 950 students from Fannin and Neal Elementary Schools are receiving an important academic boost because of the educational materials, books and games provided by Project Mays. These materials will support the students in learning over the summer,” said Mike Cargill, superintendent of the Bryan school district. “The gift of a new backpack will give each student a head start for the 2011 school year.”

More about Project Mays

Categories: Students

At Texas A&M, students know that springtime means innovation. The Ideas Challenge, hosted by the Texas A&M Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship (CNVE), looks to Aggies of all majors, from freshmen to graduate level, to come up with “the next big thing.” Hundreds of Aggies take advantage of this opportunity to present their ideas for marketable new products and services to members of business and academic communities.

The Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship is dedicated to fostering an entrepreneurial mindset within Texas A&M students, and for the tenth year in a row, the Ideas Challenge provides the perfect amount of incentive and competition to pique their interests. The challenge helps students develop their ideas from a business standpoint, pushing the participants to assess their products or services based on their on marketability, applicability and efficacy.

Ideas Challenge logo

Students are encouraged to work hard and think outside the box when it comes to their submissions—a winning idea requires creativity, careful planning, detailed writing and a compelling business presentation. Entry is free, but the competition is huge; in past years, the challenge has drawn in more than 400 submissions, and only the top 40 are named finalists. However, the incentive is huge: the top five ideas are awarded thousands in cash prizes.

Getting to the top isn’t easy. Judges pepper the students with questions, assessing whether or not their idea is a stable venture. They challenge the feasibility, financial viability and overall value of the submissions, but the evaluation doesn’t simply end there. Students are also heavily appraised on their writing, presentation, organization and communication skills. If they are unable to clearly and persuasively express their business idea to the judges, participants are unlikely to succeed.

The CNVE hosts several workshops to help students craft their submissions. Each entry must include a detailed list of which customers, competitors and suppliers will be involved in the business concept. Students must also prepare a 2-Minute Drill, a succinct and persuasive speech that outlines the fundamentals of their idea. This, the CNVE stresses, will be the most crucial element of their presentations.

Richard Lester, clinical associate professor and executive director of the CNVE, says that as far as the Ideas Challenge goes, “the idea to think creatively is the greatest resource for students.” He feels that the challenge allows participants a unique opportunity to express themselves in innovative new ways.

“So often [students] just follow along with textbooks, but this program challenges them to think on their own in a very creative and different way,” Lester says. He has seen numerous submissions in the past that are every bit as innovative as they are diverse, ranging from a bicycle helmet safety device to a mobile cupcake van.

In previous years, the panel of judges has seen multiple winning ideas. One student developed a networking website that allows its members to rate and compare courses at Texas A&M with their fellow classmates, as well as buy and sell textbooks. Another proposed a business idea that allows customers to decorate ready-made cakes themselves. Over the last five years, judges have seen submissions as diverse as duct-tape sandals and a method for directing the color of cultured pearls.

“The goal is to show students that you can create your own job at some point,” Lester says, adding that the Ideas Challenge “highlights creativity and solving some of the world’s problems.”

The program receives ample support from Texas A&M faculty members from other disciplines as well. Rodney Hill, a renowned professor in the College of Architecture, requires all students in his ENDS 101-Design Process course to compete in the challenge.

“The whole class is about generating knowledge, not reproducing knowledge,” states Hill, who has been at Texas A&M since receiving his master’s degree in architecture from University of California-Berkeley in 1969.

Hill arranges his students in groups of six, mixing both majors and genders to provide a trans-disciplinary environment. They come up with a “soft innovation” each week. Hill advises his students to examine “things that might irk them during the day, and come up with a solution.” At the end of the year his students are required to submit a final product to the Ideas Challenge. Last year, his students took first, second and and one of the three third places.

2011 Ideas Challenge

This year’s Ideas Challenge was held on May 4. The 2011 winners were:

  • First Place: University Folding Bikes – Patrick Daniels and Martin Griggs
  • Second Place: Scream Cards – Blake Carlton and Evan Lange
  • Third Place (3): Austin City Hotel – Jason Childs; Advanced Cell Culture System – Mithil Chokshi, Ashley Labonte, Jeehyun Park, Michael Whiltely; The Stint – James Bonn, Hillary Brugger, Megan Hafner, Edward Hartmann, Johnny Shih, Luke Smith

For more information, visit the webpage at cnve.tamu.edu/programs/ideas-challenge. To learn more about the Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship, go to cnve.tamu.edu.

Categories: Centers, Students