The case competition experience is quintessential for an MBA student—but what does it look like in the midst of a pandemic? As the leadership team for the Yale Healthcare Services Innovation Case Competition, we were part of the first wave of case competitions forced to shift to a virtual format this academic year.
The Yale Healthcare Services Innovation (YHSI) Case Competition is an annual event hosted by Yale SOM at which graduate student teams propose innovative solutions to a healthcare company focused on care delivery. The leadership team consists of Yale MBA/MPH students led by faculty advisor Dr. Howard Forman; I served as the logistics chair for YHSI this year. Every year the YHSI leadership team partners with a care delivery company facing a critical business decision; in the past we have partnered with Fox Rehabilitation and Elara Caring. This year’s partner was ModernMD, an urgent care network based in New York City.
In the past, YHSI has hosted up to 30 teams from across the U.S. to compete in preliminary and final rounds at Edward P. Evans Hall on a Saturday in November. The move to a virtual format this year raised three questions:
How many teams would apply to participate? We were unsure of how many teams would apply to a virtual competition (30 had applied last year when the competition was in person), but we recognized the opportunity for international involvement given the lack of travel required. To facilitate this, we reached out to students at Global Network for Advanced Management schools and invited them to apply along with the U.S. business schools we usually target. To our surprise, we received over 130 team applications from six continents (we are working on our outreach to Antarctica for next year!). This represented a 400%+ increase in applications from last year. We were elated to see the diversity of schools and backgrounds represented.
How would we structure the competition? An all-day event on a Saturday was no longer feasible for several reasons—international participants in different time zones, an increase in the number of presentations we needed to accommodate, and the threat of Zoom fatigue. We adopted a new model for this year’s competition to replace the usual format of a live preliminary round followed by live finalist presentations all in one day. Of the 132 teams that applied, 40 were selected to submit pre-recorded 15-minute pitches based on the case materials (video interviews with ModernMD leadership as well as company documents). These videos were divided amongst five judging panels made up of ModernMD executives and healthcare experts and reviewed two weeks prior to the competition date. From there, six teams were invited to participate in the finals to be hosted live via Zoom. The finals took place during the first half of the day on November 14, which allowed for fair access to international finalists and prevented the potential Zoom fatigue that would accompany a full-day event.
How do we keep a Zoom event engaging and allow for attendees to network? To keep the finals engaging, we included trivia questions throughout the day and an audience choice poll on PollEv that all preliminary and final-round teams were invited to participate in. One of the most valuable parts of a case competition is meeting students from other schools, individuals from the partner organization, and faculty and student event organizers. To allow for networking, after announcing the awards, we invited participants, judges, and organizers to network via Airmeet. I had the chance to move from table to table on the Airmeet platform and hear meaningful conversations happening between ModernMD executives, Yale faculty, competitors, and graduate students from across the globe. While it is difficult to replace a networking happy hour to close out a stressful day, this gave everyone involved in YHSI a chance to interact in an informal environment.
After all pitches and careful deliberation by the ModernMD team, the winners of this year’s YHSI competition (and the recipients of $20,000 in prizes) were:
- First place: Team ModernMBAs from Yale University
- Second place: Team Gamma from the University of Michigan
- Third place: Team CareFull Strategy from the London Business School (also the Audience Choice winner)
A special shoutout to Team AKA Healthcare from HEC Paris, who won the trivia game we played on the day of the finals!
Pivoting to a virtual case competition certainly came with its challenges and uncertainties, but those uncertainties forced us to be creative and re-think what a case competition could look like. Even if YHSI is hosted on campus again next year (fingers crossed!), we absolutely plan to incorporate some of the benefits of a virtual format.