School News

Students Use Technology to Help Local Businesses Solve Pandemic-Related Business Problems in Second Annual FinTech Challenge

By Alexa Tran and Bridget Vis

For the second annual FinTech Challenge, 65 Full-Time MBA students from the Ross School of Business were divided into 11 teams to explore ways local businesses could use technology to adapt to problems brought on by the pandemic and prepare for a post-pandemic world.

This year’s Fintech Challenge — sponsored by the  FinTech Club, Michigan FinTech Initiative, PEAK6, and Business + Tech — took place in February. The challenge aimed to break the mold of typical case competitions, as student teams competed against each other by creating the best solutions to tackle critical business challenges facing local Ann Arbor organizations. 

The eight local Ann Arbor businesses who participated in the challenge were: Blom Meadworks, Reach Bodyworks Studio, Thrive Juicery, Ray's Red Hots, Blue Lion Fitness, My Urban Toddler, Bivouac, and Ricewood BBQ. Among the business problems MBAs took on included using technology to build digital experiences; expanding into online business models; converting e-commerce customers to in-person customers; and leveraging social media to replace lost in-store foot traffic. 

The Michigan Ross MBA teams first received their problem statements and then met with business owners to better understand their businesses and challenges. After the initial stages of research and data collection, teams spent two weeks researching and devising solutions that they presented to a judging panel and the business owners.

Teams were assessed in five categories: interpretation of problem, problem solving, presentation effectiveness, business impact, and business score. Among the fintech experts judging the students’ solutions were Adrienne Harris, professor of practice at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and fintech advisor, investor, and founder; Rachel Saunders, principal at PEAK6 Strategic Capital; Scott Hamerink, associate partner at IBM; and Justine Kaemmerlen, business operations at PayPal.

Even though one team was declared the winner of the 2021 FinTech Challenge, all the local businesses won. A total of $11,000 was given to all businesses to implement the solutions presented by the teams. 

Meet the winners

Members of the first place team were Alexa Yurick, MBA ’21; Alexander Bozzo, MBA ’21;  Ellen Napoli, MBA ’21; Ali Frieder, MBA ’21; Phoebe Morgan, MBA ’21; and Christine Nelson, MBA ’21. The team won a cash prize of $4,000, with the second-place team earning $3,000 and the third-place team $2,000.

The winning team was tasked with recommending technology solutions to consolidate customer data from all the internal and third-party systems used by Thrive Juicery. The judges said they were named the winners for their ability to clearly craft a story in presenting their findings and solutions to their audience.

“Thrive Juicery currently has a unique tablet for every third-party delivery platform, which makes it difficult for employees to manage orders and leads to inconsistent integrations,” explained Frieder. “We worked on developing a data strategy, which involved streamlining the order process. We then used the data collected from these services in a meaningful way to generate insights for Thrive Juicery.”

Making meaningful impact 

Frieder said she was particularly excited to participate in this year’s FinTech Challenge because  of the ability to help a local business. 

“We know the pandemic has been especially hard on small businesses and were excited to use our backgrounds in consulting and technology and apply what we have learned in school to help a small business in our local community.We hope that our recommendations can make a real impact at Thrive.”

Ali Frieder, MBA ’21

Owner of Thrive Juicery Anna Mignery praised the winning team for the work they did and said she looks forward to continuing to work with the team to implement their solution.

"The team was amazing. They spent so much time learning the details, visiting our business, asking important questions, getting information from other local businesses and vendors, and making sure that their work was something Thrive would find beneficial and that our ideas were aligned,” shared Mignery. “I cannot imagine a team putting any more effort into this project than this team. The effort, the communication, and the results — they nailed it!"

Fintech and tech at Michigan Ross

There are a multitude of ways that students can get involved with the fintech community at Michigan Ross. Students can explore the different offerings from the Michigan FinTech Initiative, including courses such as TO 638: FinTech: Blockchain, Cryptocurrencies, and Other Technology Innovations; TO 633: Artificial Intelligence for Business; TO 404: Big Data Manipulation and Visualization; and TO 433: Artificial Intelligence for Business.

There are many undergraduate and graduate student clubs that incorporate a focus on tech, and specially fintech, including the MBA FinTech Club, BBA Tech Club, Michigan Investment Group, and Michigan FinTech Club.

“The FinTech Club particularly focuses on three pillars: company/career connections, industry speakers, and education,” said Ross Goldberg, MBA ’21, one of the student organizers of the FinTech Challenge.

“The Tech Club education team helps members navigate the industry and recruiting process through Sunday Sessions, Tech Lanes, Tech Cohorts, and other educational resources,” explained Goldberg. “Additionally, we host ‘Lunch & Learns’ and other panels with second-year MBAs to hear about their experiences.”

Other ways that students can learn about and interact with the tech industry at Michigan Ross, include Tech Week, a forum that brings together professionals, students, and alumni to discuss the latest tech and recruiting trends. In addition, the Tech Club hosts a Tech Trek where students travel to San Francisco or Seattle over fall break to companies such as Google, PayPal, Amazon, and Microsoft.

Learn more about the FinTech Initiative at Michigan Ross