Published: Nov. 19, 2019 By

This fall, Leeds staff and students hosted two case competitions for graduate students: the Net Impact Case Competition (NICC) and the Natural and Organics Case Competition (N&OCC). These competitions challenge students to apply concepts of social responsibility, sustainability and ethics to business dilemmas while proposing solutions that are profitable and feasible. Students who elect to participate gain exposure to the industry, expand their network and apply their education to business problems. 

Net Impact Case Competition 

The preliminary round of the NICC was held on Saturday, November 16th. This year’s case focused on topical and important questions of how to improve diversity and inclusion in a corporation with a bad track record for considering these issues. This annual competition brings together graduate students, executives and businesses that are committed to sustainable business practices and is the only student-run case competition. Leeds students have run the competition for almost twenty years.

This year, a record-breaking 55 teams participated in the preliminary virtual round, allowing more students around the world and with various degrees to participate. For the first time, Leeds students were allowed to participate in the competition thanks to the implementation of security measures to ensure that they do not receive an unfair advantage. Typically, around five teams are international, five are local to Colorado and the rest are from other locations within the United States. The judges are sustainability professionals in the Boulder and Denver area and Phillips66 sponsored this year’s competition. 

Net Impact Leadership TeamLeeds second-year MBAs Mike Hilgendorf and Evan Peleaux, co-presidents of the Net Impact Case Competition, oversaw this year’s competition. 

“The Net Impact Case Competition is an incredible professional development opportunity for our students, and all participants. The student leaders have done a particularly impressive job organizing the event this year and driven great results,” says Julie Waggoner, associate director of the Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility. 

Mike Hilgendorf was interested in running the competition before he started his MBA at Leeds and quickly became involved with the Net Impact leadership. Aside from the competition’s complementary nature to his focus in clean energy, Hilgendorf was interested in NICC’s international reach and title as the longest running sustainability case competition. This year’s case was about creating a financially sustainable initiative regarding diversity inclusion in the workplace. According to Hilgendorf, this competition “provides students with the opportunity to create solutions to real world business problems that businesses provide, and it is mutually beneficial for the students who gain exposure to these critical issues and the companies to whom we showcase our graduate level talent.” It also familiarizes students with the triple bottom line, which Hilgendorf believes will become increasingly important in the business world. 

If these issues of sustainability are of interest to you, NICC finals will be held on February 29th here in Boulder, Colorado, and all are encouraged to come watch the competition!

Natural and Organic Case Competition 

The 2019 MBA Natural and Organic Case Competition (N&OCC), sponsored by Charlotte's Web and Naturally Boulder, featured sustainability and social responsibility challenges in the palm oil industry and involved addressing the IPO, supply chain and overall sustainability of the business. The initial round was focused on accessing additional financing given a lack of available capital required for this company to expand into Malaysia. Teams were asked to assess the benefits and risks associated with becoming a public company to fund their expansion. Students were given market information and data surrounding their projected IPO to evaluate the situation. From this preliminary round, judges Zack Donohew, Nancy Shoemann and Jay Waddell selected six of the eight teams to progress to the final round to be in the running for the $7,500 prize.  Team presenting in the Natural and Organic Case Competition

The N&OCC finals were hosted on the 5th of November, followed by a networking night for students and local leaders in the natural products industry. The teams were presented with a twist in the case, involving a whistleblower that identified discrepancies with what the palm oil company had promised and what they intended to do as they expanded into Malaysia. Students presented their recommendations to judges Catherine A. Walsh, Director of Brand Development at Moxie Sozo and the Co Vice-President of the Naturally Boulder Board of Directors, Steve Savage, Founder and CEO of 1908 Brands, and Rochelle Kwiatkowski, Western Region Key Account Manager at Charlotte’s Web who later announced the winning team at the networking reception. Several students commented on their enjoyment of the experience, even if they did not win. They found it both challenging and rewarding to analyze a case in the natural industry with respect to maintaining a sustainable business with ethical practices. 

For more information, visit our website and learn about past years’ competitions. For undergraduates interested in participating in case competitions or community members interested in judging or sponsoring, the Business Ethics Case Competition (BECC) is coming up this February and details can be found here.