Full-time MBA team wins 2020 Tech Challenge

An MBA student team’s roadmap for how a tech CEO should best lead employees during the challenges of the next year won first prize at the Berkeley Haas Spring 2020 Tech Challenge.

Members of the winning team included Maryam Rezapoor, MBA 20, and Asif Mohammad, Cynthia Sobral, and Vera Xiao, all MBA 21. The Haas team, one of 25 teams representing 10 universities, won $5,000.

Photos of the winning Haas team in 2020 tech challenge
Clockwise from top left: Maryam Rezapoor, Vera Xiao, Cynthia Sobral, and Asif Mohammad.

The Technology Club at Haas has held the tech-focused MBA case competition at the school since 2011. The challenge, which moved online between March 30-April 3, brings together MBA students from top programs around the country, providing an opportunity to solve real-world business challenges.

Teams this year were asked to write a three-page response to the question, “How should businesses or organizations think about resiliency, recovery, and hope in the face of unforeseen global crisis?” Teams could choose to write from the point of view of a CEO sharing thoughts with employees on how to brace for the next 12 months, or as a reporter working for a major news publisher “who will write an article read by millions.”

The Haas team opted to write from the perspective of a CEO, who emphasized the value of individual vulnerability and created a corporate culture of shared empathy to reassure employees during a major crisis.

We took the perspective of a CEO sharing his or her own story and brought that experience to a very personal level.

“We took the perspective of a CEO sharing his or her own story and brought that experience to a very personal level,” Mohammad said.

The team wanted to stress the notion of “experiencing grief both individually and collectively,” Sobral said. “We need to be honest about that. We need to consider how we find meaning in this crisis.”

The pitch also suggested encouraging employees to volunteer time to help a struggling small business and that the firm establish an impact investment fund and an accelerator to support startups. “We need to be preparing for the next crisis, so we sought to empower new companies for the future,” Rezapoor said.

Ultimately, the pitch encouraged employees to consider the bigger picture of helping a tech firm facilitate “more collaboration and innovation and to be able to think beyond themselves,” Xiao said.

After submitting their entries, teams participated in an April 3 round-table discussion with the judges—executives from cloud software company Nutanix, the competition sponsor, as well as Haas Lecturer Gregory La Blanc and Gauthier Vasseur, executive director of the Fisher Center for Business Analytics.

Even in the midst of a global crisis, participating in the Tech Challenge “gave me a sense of optimism,” Sobral said. “I shifted from thinking about the here and now to thinking about the future path for business and society.”

The eight teams in the event’s final round represented Haas, UC Berkeley’s School of Engineering, Carnegie Mellon, Columbia, Dartmouth, Northwestern, University of Chicago, University of Michigan, and University of Washington. Mary Yao, Corrine Marquardt, Dunja Panic and Brad Deal, all MBA 21, organized this year’s competition.

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