WMU MBA students provide winning solutions

contact: Stacey Markin
| WMU News
Photo of MBA case competition participants.

From left: Obriecht, Bolton, Rockenbach, Tizedes, Manninen, Sopann, Francis, Grow, Jansen and Lanctot.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University Master of Business Administration students recently competed in the final round of the WMU MBA Case Competition, where an elite final four teams presented their strategies on the Columbia Business School case "BioLite: The Little Stove that Could?"

The students suggested solutions for BioLite’s complex business issue: how to profitably expand into developing world markets where their innovative cook stove could provide health benefits and cost savings for families.

Team members

The team of Joshua Grow, of Ada; Samantha Jansen, of Ontario, Canada; and Olivia Lanctot, of Grand Rapids, claimed first place and a prize of $1,000. Evaluated by a panel of executives, each team outlined their strategy for BioLite. The winning team focused on key markets in India for both production and sales and stressed partnering with Indian-based cell phone companies to aid in distribution. They also suggested a partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and developed a risk management analysis for BioLite's initiatives.

The second place team, earning a prize of $500, was composed of Don Bolton, of Lawton, Nicole Obriecht, of Sterling Heights, and Phil Rockenbach, of Kalamazoo. The teams of Lauren Tizedes, of Allen Park; Kyle Manninen, of Brownsburg, Indiana; and Sochenda Sopann, of Olive Branch, Mississippi; and Ninu Elizabeth Francis, of Cochin, India, each received $250.

"I was excited to participate in the second annual MBA Strategic Management Case Competition," says Jansen, a member of the first-place team. "The Haworth College of Business does an excellent job keeping students engaged and assisting in their success. It feels great to demonstrate our skills to industry professionals, and it was an honor to be chosen as the winning team."

"All of the presentations were fantastic," says Dr. David Flanagan, professor of management and co-organizer of the competition. "Participating in the competition was not a requirement for any course, so it really shows we have students who are proactive and willing to go above and beyond. The teams saw the business and social benefits of the product in the case and did a great deal of outside research and analysis to formulate some sensational ideas for helping people in third world countries in a manner that is financially sustainable. All of the teams rose to the occasion."

The case

The top four teams made presentations on a case dealing with a "bottom of the pyramid" international strategy for BioLite, a manufacturer of efficient wood burning camping stoves that can also generate power for items like cellular phones and LED lights. The company is working to develop and sell a home stove based on the technology in the camping stove, which is targeted for sale in third-world countries. Widespread use of more efficient cooking stoves, rather than traditional open fires, could save millions of lives by reducing exposure to smoke as well as reducing deforestation. Throughout the course of several weeks, the teams conducted research and developed strategies to guide Biolite's efforts.

The judges

Judging the competition finals were Joe Calvaruso, executive director, Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation; David Ellis, president and chief executive officer, Ellis Capital Management; Amy Papranec, vice president, Global Program Solutions, Stryker Corporation; and Jennifer Rutledge, chief operations officer, SalesPage Technologies.

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