HBS Wins Third "Most Innovative Team" in the World

An EC team recently flew the HBS flag high by achieving the third “Most Innovative Team in the World” award at the Thunderbird Innovation Challenge, held on November 20-22 at the Thunderbird campus. The team – all section-mates from OG – was comprised of Kevin Barhydt, Sam Clemens, Guillermo Silberman, Dan Stone, and David Tom.

The team emerged as one of five finalists battling for the Innovation crown. The competition was intense: 748 students participated, constituting 154 teams from 52 MBA programs, and representing 6 countries worldwide. The HBS team was formed when Dan Stone saw an ad about the competition and gathered his section-mates together to join the contest.

Reflecting on the experience, Stone commented, “I think that these types of challenges are a good way to have some fun with classmates.

Innovation is fun. We had a good time thinking up ideas and solutions.

One of the cool things about creativity is that there is no “right” way to be creative!”

The competition was a multi-stage process. Before the first round in October, the organizers of the competition developed “innovation statements,” that is to say, statements asking how a product, service, brand or business strategy could be innovated. In mid-October, the organizers randomly assigned the innovation statements to 5-member MBA teams. A sampling of innovation statements included: “How can you make soda beverages more relevant to teenagers? What soda flavor will appeal to teenagers in the future? What type of mid-term strategy should energy companies pursue to deliver year over year earnings growth?”

The first round was conducted online. Each team brainstormed and developed a new brand, service, product, or strategy concept, responding to the assigned innovation statement. All new product plans were submitted within a few days. A panel of independent judges reviewed the product plans, inviting the five best teams to the Final “Speed” Round.

Battling for the top three prizes were five finalist teams: HBS, Brigham Young University (Marriott), Duke University (Fuqua), University of Minnesota (Carlson) and University of Texas at Austin (McCombs). The teams’ first actual challenge was a case on eMove (a U-Haul company), followed by an innovation statement regarding the UPS Store in the final round.

In the final round, each team was assigned a new innovation statement, and given approximately 10 hours to brainstorm and create new product plans. Each team then verbally presented their newly-developed product plan to an independent panel of judges and a live audience. In evaluating teams’ proposals, the judges examined four key areas:

o Innovativeness (Unmet needs, novelty, and probability of success)

o Marketing strategy (Go-to-market approach, product positioning and definition of target market)

o Strategic fit (Fit with existing sales/distribution channels, strategic importance to business unit or company)

o Financial feasibility (Market potential, rationale for profit potential, and risk)

HBS clinched the third place, following the Fuqua team, with the Marriott team take first. The judging panel in the final round comprised a diverse group of business leaders: Prem Arjoon, Director of Product Development, UPS; Mahesh Bhave, VP of New Business Development, Hughes Network Systems; Tim Jones, Principal, Innovaro; Marsha McArthur, Johnson & Johnson; Boris Pluskowski, Director of KM Research, Imaginatik; Jeffrey Stamp, VP of R&D, Eureka! Ranch; Scott Walker, CEO, Billmatrix Corporation; and Joyce Wycoff, Co-Founder, Innovation Network.

The HBS team was enthusiastic about the experience. David Tom reminisced, “There is tremendous value to being able to meet students at other business schools outside of the typical group. We had a chance to spend a lot of time with contestants from BYU, UT Austin, Duke and the University of Minnesota in addition to the Thunderbird students we interacted with as organizers. Being able to socialize with them was a good experience.”

Tom also recommends that HBS students consider participating in the competition next fall, “I would encourage anyone who is considering entering the contest next year to contact us directly. My advice would be to not take the event too seriously – at the contest, we were given rubber chickens and giant Hulk hands! Just try to have fun and the best ideas will come automatically Our first-year marketing professor, the now retired Gerry Zaltman, had always encouraged us to not only think outside of the box, but to make sure that we don’t go from one box to another.”

Welcome to the new Entrepreneurship Column of the Harbus! The Entrepreneurship Column is all about celebrating the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation at HBS and among HBS students. We invite you to get your weekly dose of inspiration from the stories and words of the amazing people whom we will profile every week, and if you have a story idea, don’t hesitate to contact Analisa Balares at abalares@mba2005.hbs.edu.