Data matters. But why? At its very core, it tells a story – where we have been, where we have fallen short, and where we need to go. It is the catalyst for change and the inspiration that helps drive meaningful results.
On May 17th, The Raymond A. Mason School of Business virtually hosted the second annual Data Feast Competition in conjunction with the Boehly Center for Excellence in Finance. "One of the things we see in this world is the continued convergence between the digital and the physical worlds and how that re-envisions the business model and enables us as leaders to think forward and re-evaluate how we utilize data to make impactful decisions," says Todd Boehly '96, co-founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Eldridge.
Both the Business School and The Boehly Center recognize the importance of measuring progress and preparing students for a data-driven world. This relatively new language requires a high level of fluency and aptitude. To best prepare students for mastery in this field, the Business School has built a sustainable partnership with two Tribe alumni-owned companies: Eldridge, a holding company, and The St. James, a large sports, wellness, and entertainment complex in northern Virginia.
In its second year, this case competition gives five teams of students (three teams from the online MSBA program and two teams for the residential MSBA program) "a real-world client and a project that takes them several weeks to complete," explains Professor Joe Wilck, Clinical Associate Professor of Business Analytics and Machine Learning. Unlike business analytics case competitions at other universities, the students are judged on their data science aptitude and business acumen. "Our students must showcase their technical rigor alongside being able to articulate the business value of their work effectively," says Wilck. "We approach this competition with a double pitch mentality that requires technical expertise and the ability to communicate with impact."
"Data alone provides very little value. You have to be able to communicate your findings effectively, which requires strategy and focus as you take that data and translate it into useful information," says Phillip Wagner, Clinical Assistant Professor of Management Communications.
"If you can take data and tell a story with it or get your audience to feel its impact, you'll find it a lot easier to drive decisions, shape policy, and implement change."
The hands-on approach of this event is an extension of the intensive capstone course the students face in the rigorous MSBA online and residential programs. The competition provides a real-world model to prove the program's ability to prepare fluent and pioneering thinkers in the data science field.
The competition tests the students' ability to apply what they have learned in the classroom to an ambiguous real-world problem. Several weeks before this year's competition, each team was given actual data from The St. James. Together with their own research, students utilized the information to analyze four core customer profiles to glean further insight into the organization's member and customer base. The students were tasked with providing modeling, analysis, and a dashboard showcasing the results of the desired customer profiles. "We get the enormous benefit of the insights that the students derive across these five teams," says The St. James Co-Founder, Kendrick Ashton '98. "The information is penetrating, useful, and impactful, and we will be able to leverage this sophisticated insight and data interpretation to further our vision and realize our full potential."
During the competition, team members tuned in from all around to share a 20-minute pre-recorded presentation and then participate in a live Q&A with a panel of eight judges, which included W&M faculty and directors from Eldridge and The St. James. The students' analysis gave The St. James new insights and recommendations for actionable opportunities to improve and expand the business.
Ashton and his fellow The St. James co-founder Craig Dixon '97, J.D. '00 continue to be excited about their partnership with their alma mater. "William & Mary is an extraordinary place, and we value the experiences we had there as students and the ability to give back. This is truly a win-win for all involved." And according to Ashton, the students this year even managed to 'exceed expectations' from last year's competition. "They keep getting better and better."
The two winning teams each received a $1,000 prize made possible by Eldridge and The St. James to be shared amongst the team members. With another year of successful competition and fruitful insight, the program looks forward to expanding in the year to come.
The Mason School launched the residential and online MSBA in 2015 and 2018, respectively. The programs continue to grow and incorporate immersive experiential learning opportunities giving students an edge in a competitive marketplace.
"This competition exemplifies everything we are doing right in the classroom. With the help of our dedicated alumni and expansive partner companies, we are bridging theory and knowledge with practical experience in ways that set our students and us apart from other business schools. This opportunity showcases how well our students are prepared not only in their technical expertise but in their business acumen," says Mason School Dean Larry Pulley '74.
A hearty congratulations to the 2021 Data Feast Case Competition winners: