A case competition is an interesting experience. Usually, you’re stuck in a room for a vast majority of the week (or day) with a small group of ambitious and hyper competitive individuals solving a big hairy business problem.
Regardless of whether or not that may sound appealing to you, business case competitions are an invaluable opportunity for students at all levels to gain experience solving real world business problems and communicating recommendations within a team context. It’s one thing to learn business concepts and frameworks in a classroom. It’s quite another to be put under time pressure to solve a pressing business problem and create clear, evidence-based recommendations.
If you’re preparing for a business case competition, but don’t know where to begin, look no further. We’ve provided business case competition tips and examples in this article to aid you on your quest for 1st Place.
PS: Did you know that Management Consulted facilitates case competitions for universities around the world? Learn more about hosting a MC Case Competition!
And scroll down to the bottom of this article for a list of international business case competitions you can enter!
What Is a Case Competition?
First off, what is a business case competition? It’s where students form teams – usually of 4-6 people each – that compete to solve challenging business problems for a specific client. Each team gets the same information and timeframe to develop recommendation before presenting their solution to a panel of judges, who evaluate the quality of each team’s analysis, recommendations, and presentation.
How does this begin? In a case competition, all teams are given the same business case to evaluate, analyze, and diagnose. You are given anywhere from a few hours to several days (sometimes up to a week!) to develop your solutions and craft your recommendation presentation.
Multiple rounds of competition are common, and the business cases presented represent a wide range of industries and subject matter. After a robust case competition, the winning team often receives a valuable prize which could include money, recognition for themselves and their school, and potentially even interview invites (when the competition is hosted by a consulting firm).
A Standard Case Competition Schedule
Though these events come in all different shapes and sizes, a lot of them are structured in the following format:
- Company/organization announces case competition a few weeks in advance of the launch
- Students form teams and sign up
- The case competition begins! Teams receive the case
- Students work on the case for the specified time period
- Host organization panel chooses finalists
- Finalists present to panel
- Host organization selects winning teams (usually 1st to 3rd place)
Benefits of Participating in Case Competitions
There are a myriad of reasons for you to give a business case competition a shot. For one, working with a team will challenge your teamwork and leadership skills, including your ability to build consensus with peers over whom you have no direct hierarchical power. When you have people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives coming together to work towards a goal, you will undoubtedly have conflict, and conflict demands growth. Collaborative teamwork is a necessary component of any consulting career, and your team’s ability to execute under time pressure can put your skills in this area on display.
Another benefit of competing is to gain near-real world experience. The simulated experience of a case competition is more realistic than classroom discussions and develops your thinking and communication skills in a different way. In a case competition, you’re solving real issues that your “clients” have faced or are facing. You’re digging deep into thorny business issues, often sifting through and analyzing tons of data, all to crystallize and communicate data-driven solutions. And the practice of pitching your recommendations to a seasoned panel of judges (i.e., learning how to sell and persuade) is invaluable.
Business Case Competition Tips: How to Win
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to coming out on top in a business case competition. However, you set yourself up for a greater chance of success by adhering to the following three rules:
1.Be MECE In Your Work Streams
We can’t stress the importance of this first rule enough. With limited time, your team must divide & conquer to review and analyze a large quantity of data in an efficient manner. The team should divide the work at hand into equal, non-overlapping areas. Each team member’s work stream should (ME) mutually exclusive (i.e. it shouldn’t overlap with what any other team member is analyzing) while also being (CE) collectively exhaustive (i.e. covering all main areas of the case objective).
While you could likely find lots of interesting insights in the case data provided to you, you want to be focused at the start to define MECE work streams that in combination will lead you to answer the case objective for the client. Structuring your team’s work in a case competition is a very similar exercise to creating a structure framework in the beginning of a case interview or structuring an entire engagement. Make sure to apply your case interview skills of structuring in the way you create and manage through work streams. Your team should appoint a Team Leader to help view and coordinate across the workstreams as you go through this process.
2. Be Hypothesis Driven
Don’t begin the case competition by having everyone look through all the data first before arriving at a set of recommendations. This is a bottoms-up approach that doesn’t work in a case competition or in the real world. Tap into your business acumen to begin with a hypothesis: what do you think is the key driver of the business problem? Where do you think the potential solution lies?
Defining this early hypothesis should be done in conjunction with establishing your work streams, ensuring that the team’s efforts will prove out and build a specific recommendation (or disprove the draft recommendation, allowing you to pivot!).
A hypothesis-driven approach allows you to be efficient in your analysis – if your initial hypothesis is right, you just saved yourself a lot of time of looking at data that would not be useful. If you’re wrong, you’ve learning information to help you pivot to a new hypothesis. As you work through your case competition, report any findings that lead to a need to update or change the team’s hypothesis to the Team Leader.
3. Make A Strong Final Recommendation
Be laser-focused in your final presentation, leaving no doubt about what you are recommending and why. Be evidence-based in the way you present through your rationale and rank the next steps you recommend, so the client knows exactly in which order they should attack things. Let’s dive more into the recommended PPT structure for a case competition.
Case Competition PowerPoint Structure
Nothing is more frustrating than conducting hours of research and data analysis only to throw away all your hard work with a less than stellar PowerPoint presentation. You can have the most brilliant idea, but if you can’t convince the client to act, it’s useless. Your case competition presentation content should be structured in a way that is clear, compelling and easy to follow. The best way to do this is by utilizing The Pyramid Principle, telling your story in a top-down fashion.
Your main recommendation should be presented up front and then proven in the way you present to the judges. Laying out your presentation in this Pyramid Principle fashion forces your storytelling to be all applicable to the case objective and speaking to the evidence base you have that proves out your recommendation. The standard, bottoms-up method of presenting should be avoided (e.g., extensive context setting followed by approach, methodology and finally leading into conclusions). Don’t bury the lead – be upfront with sharing your specific recommendation first, then make sure the rest of your presentation flows to prove out your team’s solution.
To do this, the first slide of your PowerPoint should be a short and sweet Executive Summary – lead with your main takeaway (your recommendation) followed by 2-4 arguments that will support that assertion. Then, each subsequent chapter of your PPT deck will prove out one of those supporting arguments. As you craft your slides, be careful to ensure that each slide has only one key takeaway, represented in a full sentence slide title (this is an important part of being MECE). Use data visualization (e.g., quotes, charts, graphs) to effectively visualize and prove out your slide title. Finally, end your presentation by restating your final recommendations and outlining specific, prioritized next steps for the client.
One of the biggest mistakes we see when running case competitions at our partner universities is that teams rarely dedicate ample time to case competition PowerPoint structure. So, a huge tip for winning a business case competition is dedicate time for your PowerPoint deck and create your slides as you work through your analysis. The teams that do this efficiently and are coordinated across the team are often the ones that end up the winners. And these are the same skills that you will have to employ on the job day in and day out. You will have to stay laser focused on your work stream and project’s objectives to perform various project activities and translate that work into insights which flow from and prove out a specific actionable recommendation. Case competitions are a great training ground for all this!
Case Competition Example: International Business Case Competitions
Below, we’ve compiled a fairly comprehensive list of international business case competitions, organized by country.
- ASCM Case Competition
- Collegiate Ethics Case Competition
- Deloitte Consulting National Undergraduate Case Competition
- Global Case Competition at Harvard
- Heavener International Case Competition
- Kellogg Real Estate Conference and Venture Competition
- KeyBank Case Competition
- Marshall International Case Competition
- Net Impact Case Competition
- NU-CUIBE International Business Case Competition
- San Diego State University
- The Katz Invitational
- The University of California Press’ Case Studies in the Environment Prize Competition
- The Schlesinger Global Family Enterprise Case Competition
- UConn International Business Case Challenge
- Yale Healthcare Case Competition
We hope the business case competition tips and examples in this article were helpful and helped answer the all-important question: “What is a business case competition and how do I win?”
We highly encourage joining (or creating!) a team and taking part in a case competition. Take advantage of the opportunity to grow in your analysis, presentation, and leadership skills – they will come in handy as you move on to case interviews and the job of being a consultant. Apply the business case competition tips above to crush the competition, apply the case competition learning to your case interview, and then continue to utilize these skills on the job. Best of luck!