” And now the moment you’ve all been waiting for… the winners of the Alberta Deans of Business Case Competition 2023…”
But first… let’s rewind and establish how we got here…
Case Comp 2022…
In spring of 2021 I was determined to make the best life possible for my daughter and myself. I found a townhouse to rent for us, was beginning to establish my sole proprietorship social media company, and I had just been accepted to Bow Valley College in Calgary, AB, in hopes of acquiring a Business Administration Diploma in Digital Marketing. When I signed up I took 5 courses, even though the recommended course load was 3. I wanted to graduate as soon as possible.
That first term I realized around midterms just how much I had bitten off. I found myself sobbing at times with how exhausted I was, but I pushed on. At one point I reached out to my Management Instructor Kristy Calles to tell her I was still alive, just completing course work at crazy hours and sadly hadn’t attended her class, which at the time was my favorite course. She explained that she wondered where I had been but fully understood and appreciated the struggle, as she too was a mother, working full time and gaining a master’s degree. I felt instantly heard, appreciated and validated in that moment, and strived to ensure I was present in all her classes going forward.
In winter of 2021, Kristy approached me to add one more wild task to the mix, she suggested I put myself forward for consideration on the Deans of Alberta Business Case Competition team. A part of me felt it was too much, but another part of me longed to be part of something bigger in my education, something I had not done since I suffered trauma in 1999 and stopped being… me.
I said yes, went through the application process, and low and behold I was accepted to the team.
We were warned ahead of time that this would be tough, that the work was grueling, but we signed up nonetheless. Every term students are usually given a large business case to do a final presentation on. On the Dean’s team, the group of 5 must complete a “final presentation” every 7-10 days, get grilled on it, and do it again and again until case competition. The coaches work closely with us to hone our skills all in hopes of taking home the coveted bragging rights and a cheque to sweeten the pot. Sounds tough but fun, right?
Well, last year it was tough. It was still mid-pandemic, and not one of us worked together in the school. As an introvert I thought “this is perfect!!! I can compete and never leave home!” However, the competition being virtual had its drawbacks.
Our team was comprised of mostly 1st year students, which meant we were still hungry but definitely at a disadvantage given some of the competing schools had 4th year business students. Some of us held onto our ego (myself included) and weren’t as open to coming to agreements as we perhaps should have been. When it came time for virtual case comp through Medicine Hat College 2022 , sadly, we did not place in the top 3. And while we gave it our all, and I was left sobbing by myself, when I reviewed the winning teams presentations I realized what our solution was lacking.
—– FAST FORWARD TO 2022 WINTER ——
Case Comp 2023 – The Preparation
Kristy approached me again to see if I was willing to take the plunge with the ADBCC team for the 2023 competition, and without hesitation I replied emphatically, “oh Hell yes!”
I was hungry, I knew what we had messed up the first time and I wanted redemption. I wanted to show the school, the industry, and my little girl what I was capable of, and what BVC had helped mold me into. Also, I was going into my last term at BVC before transferring to Athabasca University to finish my Bachelor of Commerce in Marketing, so I wanted to leave with a bang.
I had expected some of last year’s team members to come back, sadly, I was the only one. Maybe I just enjoy punishment 🤣!
And I say punishment humorously, however, it works out to about 20-30hrs additional a week, understanding and navigating group culture (this is NOT easy) and continuously growing your skills in hopes of being the top business students in the province. AS WELL AS maintaining everything else in your world (school, work, family).
At our first meeting in December, there was Elaine Paglinawan, Steven Woh, 2 other gentlemen and our coaches, Kristy Calles, Jeff Kawalilak, our newly appointed coach Steven Trottier and myself present. We were all ambitious and ready to go.
Come January when we began to kick off our learning sessions with the coaches, the two gentlemen dropped out of the team due to unforeseen circumstances. Elaine, Steven W and I were left feeling uncertain and frightened. There is a lot of research that goes into this, and being just the three of us that would be an insane amount of work.
The coaches worked quickly to add Agustina Antello and shortly after John Padlan to the team. And with that we had, albeit interruptedly, formed our Dream Team.
Elaine, a young Filipino mother, and by all impressions a mild mannered, quiet little lady, showed her power and skill in our first case. I came up with an idea for a solution, but she was quick to say “I think it should be “vertical integration because I found ____, ____ and ____, and in this article it says _____, _____. “My jaw dropped. FINALLY!!!!! I have someone who isn’t afraid to tell me their honest opinion! I instantly respected and adored this little lady. Agus was quick to back her up as she fully agreed with her strategy and even had her own research that correlated it. Wow. I had finally been placed in a group setting where others could not only match me, but rival what I put forward and back it up. I thought “holy shit, we could actually win this!” Steven was a magician with numbers, I had never seen someone who could be so thorough but also explain every single aspect of it in a way I fully understood his logic.
Agustina made it known early on why she was a Human Resources major, as we deemed her the group “referee.” She has an innate ability to remain level headed, impartial, and see things at face value. This is a highly underrated skill that is crucial to being a great HR professional. On top of being here far away from her home country of Uruguay, she proved that she could work long hours, provide stellar research and catch all the small details that my “big creative” brain seems to overlook. Her sense of humor, determination and strong work ethic held the team together in times of uncertainty.
John, brought on as an assist struggled to carve out his place in the team at first. But by the time we hit the war room he found his footing and we were off to the races.
Looking back it feels like a whirlwind. We evaluated 5 cases in preparation of the contest in 2023. The first case went well, but we hit some hiccups along the way by the second one. On valentines day my grandfather, who is suffering from vascular dementia, went into a coma. The family was alerted and warned to prepare. While I didn’t want him to suffer I was overcome with sadness and could not participate in things the way I normally do. The team saw my pain, and even though we were still newly formed they stepped in and helped where I could not.
Following this interruption, while I gained my strength back the remainder of the team were beginning to feel the strain of the contest. We had two 1.5hr meetings a week with the coaches, as well as 2, 2hr meetings a week with the team (sometimes as late as 12:30am with the whole team and then Steven and I up until 2:30am discussing financials and cost breakdowns). We were approaching midterms and the cases were getting harder and harder.
I noticed Elaine, a mother residing alone in a foreign country without her partner or family circle here was looking similar to how I felt last year, overwhelmed, exhausted, and alone. I was terrified she would leave the team. The idea of public speaking scared her and I know she struggled at first to find her confidence. However, shortly after ‘the hardest part’ which is right around midterms, I watched her expression change from defeat to determination, and what a little force she turned into!!!
The coaches called us in to begin practicing in person, and our first practice we had to do it in front of the 3 coaches, and 2 other instructors.
Now, I should add, myself, Agus, and Elaine HATE accounting/economics. I am a marketing major and they are human resources majors. Agus and I were even in the same accounting class in our first term so we both watched each other struggle immensely.
Of all the teachers they chose to watch us, one of them was our 1st year, 1st term accounting instructor Wayne Lang. Now while I really liked Wayne, I’m sure he remembers times when I wrote in the answer section on a test ” I literally just studied this and I can’t remember… sorry.” In fact, the day I wrote the accounting final and passed with… wait for it… a whopping 53% I cried.
I have cried from joy twice in my life:
1. When my daughter was born…
2. When I passed Intro to Accounting.
Needless to say I felt I had to redeem myself in the eyes of this instructor. I respected him so much but I had to show I was so much better than 1st term intro to accounting me was.
We presented on WGS NBA2K and blew them away. Wayne even said he was expecting a boring presentation but he actually “learned something.” Which is precisely what my former boss, client and mentor Frank Lonardelli told me about presentations, “If you can teach me something I don’t know, then it’s worth my time.”
From there we skyrocketed. We had our presentation layout down, our HR ladies had found their groove, and we had a secret weapon in Steven Woh for financials.
Now anyone who knows CFO’s and Accountants, they’re typically quiet, reserved individuals with amazing eyes for detail and analytical thinking. They are not usually seen as bold and “strong presenters” when it comes to numbers because… numbers can be boring (Sorry Wayne and Steven!!!)
However, numbers are crucial in business because:
1. They never lie.
2. They show growth/areas of concern.
When Steven presents numbers, everyone listens. He is assertive, powerful, and entertaining. Even our poor coach Kristy burst out laughing on numerous occasions with Steven’s performance. He is not only a number powerhouse, but can hold the attention of the crowd in his hand, and only 25! This young man will go far in life.
By the time we got to the war room, Elaine and Agus were well trained in their public speaking and were ready to show the educational world what they had learned. We were ready.
Last year I saw why they call it a “war room.” We were on edge, scared, had tech issues to contend with, and overall lacking the experience we needed to compete at the level of our competitors.
But this year was something else.
I told everyone just pray we get a marketing case. If we get a marketing case I can lead us home on this I promise.
I met Kristy ahead of time to drop off my office chair for the war room the following day, and then we all arrived in our finery to meet the competing teams in the ATB Hall at 5pm for dinner.
This is where they place all our schools names in a hat and draw them, then spin the wheel to choose a fictitious name for us to ensure the competition remains blind. Then, once all of the names are drawn, they draw times to present at. The earliest time had always been 7:30am, and the final time is based on how many teams there are and allowing for a break in between. On both occasions we were the last team drawn. We were team Unforgiven, and we were to present on Saturday at 8:10am… I had booked my friend Trisha to come do hair and makeup for us girls the morning of… which meant we would be in hair and makeup at 4am Saturday morning.
After dinner we departed and prepared ourselves mentally for the events to follow.
THE WAR ROOM
War room day we were supposed to be in the banquet hall for breakfast at 7:30am. I was running late as I was filling up my daughters stroller will all the necessities I would need. Yes, I took my daughter’s old stroller, that my dad and I had now jimmy-rigged into a cat stroller (yes, I am actually serious) and loaded it up with:
- full sized cooler filled with snacks/coffee cream, etc.
- 3l jug of boiling hot water for tea/coffee
- cushion for sitting on (even though my chair has great back support, office chairs still lack proper cushions… opportunity there developers!!!)
- laptop in laptop case
- bags with keyboard, laptop stand, phone stand, chargers, notebooks, pens, power cords etc…
As I raced to the banquet hall I saw the doors already closed and thought “shit, I’m late.” Furthermore, no one told me there would be speakers, least of all my coach up there at the podium, and the dean sitting at our table, as I crashed into the banquet hall doors with my stroller stacked to the gills and had the whole hall look over at me as I rudely interrupted the breakfast…
Needless to say I ate nothing while I sat there recovering from the shame.
After that, we set off to the war room to prepare.
We each took a corner in the classroom and setup our area. Almost everyone had the simple student setup, a small lightweight laptop, a notebook, and some pens.
Then there’s me in the back corner with my chair that looks like I’m planning some form of world domination with my entire troll hole transported from home and setup so I am remotely comfortable in this new environment.
As we read the case, I started thinking, “the universe heard me, IT’S A MARKETING CASE!!!!!!!”
As I looked up from finishing everyone was smiling at me mouthing “OMG Carolynne it’s a marketing case!!!!!”
I knew in that moment we really, really had a chance here.
The case was posed by Red Iron Labs in Calgary, AB. A female led software developer specializing in VR applications. There seemed to be a disconnect with the current market and their fun game Muffin Fight. While it was previously marketed on platforms such as Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook, Elaine and I instantly thought of a strategy for this. They needed to reposition the brand in front of a demographic that would appreciate the engagement and community they were looking to create. And we knew exactly what to do to get them there. (Or had an idea, anyway)
My initial thoughts were to conduct a school contest, so I guided everyone to get the demographics of the market size, any barriers to their entry, and what issues may pop up on different social media platforms.
While we believed their initial strategy was to target the parents of their demographic, 7-12yr olds, Elaine and I both have daughters that are almost 7, and we both said, “we have no clue what they want until they show us it on YouTube.” When we’re on LinkedIn we’re looking for ways to advance our professional edge. And as a social media manager, I knew that Facebook ads have become capital intensive with little ROI if you’re a small business these days.
Agus found the kicker that NOT ONE other team pointed out, that the platform Twitch had an age restriction of 13yrs old. This was huge. Twitch was a major platform, so did we extend the age demographic or pivot slightly?
Then, Elaine found, what I believe to be our golden nugget of research. She sent over an article about how VR technology assists children and individuals with special needs to socialize in a controlled environment and experience senses and moments that are sometimes beyond their ability of movement or capacity. That was it.
I too had just been researching their corporation to speak to the corporate culture and noticed they developed software to help not only people with special needs… but also for dementia patients… be still my heart. Instantly I thought of my grandad and how he could’ve benefitted by their technology.
We had to win this.
From 1pm to 2pm we were escorted to another hall where we, and the other teams, met with the Co-Founder & CEO Rosalinda Hernandez, and the Operations Manager Mehreen Kapadia. Again, this was based on drawing names out of a popcorn bowl to determine who went next.
As the nominated speaker for our team I felt it prudent to be sure to thank the CEO & her partner for providing us with such an awesome case for us to work on, it’s not often we’re able to make a personal connection with business cases but we were right there with this one. Further, after answering our questions, another team had asked about the 2 versions of the game. The CEO referred to them as “Use Your Illusions I & II” and without hesitation I yelled out, “Ya! Guns N Roses!”
Everyone looked at me like “WTF is she talking about?” But the CEO smiled because she knew, that I knew, precisely where she had pulled inspiration for their naming, and the rest of the students were left completely on the outside of that reference.
We went back to the war room feeling more confident than ever, and forged away to finish what we had started.
It was possibly the most peaceful group experience ever.
5:45pm came faster than we could’ve imagined, and to our horror when our USB was cracked and we had to scramble to get a new one from the administration before we could submit.
We walked out of that room victorious. We knew we had presented a solid solution, and we were certain we would place 1st, 2nd, or 3rd depending on what the company was looking for.
I proceeded to bail down the hallway pushing my stroller filled with s**t and pulling my giant computer chair to the car where I finally got some introvert downtime.
Then, at 8pm, we all trekked back to school to begin the rehearsals.
3hrs later, 3 ativan in and probably 50 belly laughs we finally called it a night.
We got back to the hotel at about 11:30 and began getting ready for the next day.
By the time I had finished washing my hair etc it was 1:30am.
I woke up at 4:21am to Trisha outside my door with all her hair and makeup. I could not find my pants for the life of me so, I answered the door wrapped in a towel, in full troll mode ready to put Trisha to work.
When Agus was in HMU I went to move Trisha’s car for her and get coffee for all the ladies.
By the time we were all ready we were about 15 mins late for rehearsal at school so we all moved as fast as we could from the Hilton Garden Inn and Suites to Bow Valley College North Campus in our little stilettos.
(Midway through our rehearsal I realized I left the hotel and accidentally took my friend Trisha’s keys. 🤣🤣 whoops! She was a great sport and just had a snooze in the hotel until I got back.)
We did our rehearsal and boy were we ready. I knew we had a solid chance.
When we walked in we saw the judges, the same two we had met the day before and Dr. Wendy Aturamu – CPHR. The first thing I noticed was the CEO was wearing a GNR T-shirt. I thought, right on, it’s a sign.
(I should note, when I get married I intend to walk down the aisle to “November Rain” by GNR, and also have my first dance to it. I will also break apart and do the Slash guitar solo in my white dress. Yes, I have dreamed this since I was about 8yrs old. One of my first CD’s was “Appetite for Destruction,” and while everyone in England was listening to pop music, I was in my room swinging off my bed posts screaming “Welcome to the Jungle!!!!” I have always walked to the beat of my own drum so to speak…
We shook the hands of the judges and we got to work.
We showed the entire room what we were made of, and damn we were good.
Every single one of us nailed it.
I watched as Kristy and Jeff sat in the crowd like proud nervous parents. Every time we nailed a point we had stuttered on the day before, Jeff’s eyes widened with pride and hope. Elaine didn’t falter once. Agus knew exactly what to say, how much to say, and how to say it. Steven, well, Steven is just amazing and hands down the most interesting numbers person alive. And then you have me, your resident story teller who brought it home at the end.
We left the auditorium feeling victorious. We knew we nailed it.
When judging time came round we thought for sure we had placed first.
As Dean Allison took to the podium we all clenched our teeth and prepared for the results.
“In third place, team Superman, Portage College!”
^ That was impressive given they were the very first team to present that morning. Bravo Portage College!
“In second place, I feel a bit funny saying this… Unforgiven, Bow Valley College!”
WE WON SECOND PLACE!!!!
As gutted as we were that it wasn’t first. We placed in the Top 3. That was epic. In that moment I felt redeemed.
“In first place, team Interstellar, Athabasca University.” Bravo Athabasca!
I guess I’m going to the right school next if you’re who placed first 🙂
But keep in mind, Athabasca’s team were 4th year university students. Ours was 4- 2nd years and a 1st year.
We found out that this is Kristy and Jeff’s last year coaching, which is why Steven Trottier was brought in to take over following this. We were so happy to be able to win at least once for them.
This has been one of the best learning experiences of my life.
What I learned from the coaches, and moreover what I learned from the comradery among the group will never go unnoticed. I have grown and changed in ways I never thought possible.
I thought I was coming to college to get a piece of paper so I can progress in life.
I am now leaving a completely different person. I am confident. I am knowledgeable. I am strategic. I am empathetic.
I am ready for the business world.
Thank you Bow Valley College, and more so, thank you Kristy Calles for seeing something in me 1st term that I thought I had lost long ago.
For anyone interested in Muffin Fight & Red Iron Labs, GO JOIN THEIR DISCORD CHANNEL!!!!
STAY TUNED FOR OUR YOUTUBE VIDEO OF OUR WINNING PRESENTATION!
Special Thanks to:
Coaches/ Faculty Advisors: Jeff Kawaliliak, Kristy Calles, Steven Trottier
Dean of Bow Valley Chiu School of Business: Alison Anderson
Associate Dean of Business: Eddie Sargent
CEO of Red Iron Labs Rosalinda Hernandez
Red Iron Labs Operations Manager Mehreen Kapadia
Project Officer: Regula Lewis
Trisha Gader of Hair & Makeup by Trisha
Bow Valley College Volunteers
Hilton Garden Inn staff