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A Win for Yale SOM Team, and for a Small Business Impacted by COVID-19

Alice Yuan ’22 shares her experience as a school lead for the Small Business School Challenge, a national case competition that provides rapid impact and strategic help for small businesses struggling during the pandemic.

Over the past couple of months, I have been working with Priyana Junankar ’22 to organize the Yale School of Management’s participation in the Small Business School Challenge (SBSC). This case competition was created by LifeWork, a startup on a mission to encourage self-employment and entrepreneurship in direct response to the pandemic. Each team of three to four students was paired with a local small business to research their business model, current issues, and growth opportunities and develop actionable strategies to strengthen the small business over the course of two days.

The competition culminated in a school-level semi-final and then a national-level final, which comprised representatives across 15 different business schools. Ten Yale and Yale-affiliated teams vied to represent Yale in the nationals, presenting to a panel of judges that included our very own Professor Vineet Kumar. The winning Yale team, composed of Corey Baron ’22, Logan Schuelke ’22, and Melanie Zook ’22, went on to compete in the national finals. They also took first place at nationals, winning more than $3,000 for their business partner, Spark FM, which is the first black female-owned radio station in Boston.

When Priyanka and I found out that our team had won nationals, we were thrilled. As the SOM school leads, we had been organizing the event for six weeks before the competition kicked off. Each week, we had several meetings to touch base with the other school leads, program directors, and between just the two of us to make sure we were on track with the program timeline. We also spent time recruiting MBA participants, judges, and mentors for the competition. These six weeks weren’t easy—it took a lot of time and hard work to plan, and I am so inspired by each one of the school leads and program directors. Everyone worked so hard to execute this event at their school level, and we spent every week sharing best practices, marketing templates, and lessons learned with each other.

In the week leading up to the event, Priyanka and I met repeatedly with our judges, mentors, and SBSC program directors to ensure that our semi-finals and transition into the finals would go smoothly. Coordinating everything virtually definitely pushed both of us in terms of our event planning skills, and I am grateful to have had someone as passionate and kind as Priyanka as my partner for the SBSC! As we launched the semi-finals over Zoom, we both felt a sense of pride and wonder wash over us as we watched the teams give their presentations. The insights that they generated with their business partners in just 48 hours was truly inspiring.

I am grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of meaningful and impactful event and to have met so many dedicated business school students and local businesses. Together, we were able to help small businesses develop innovative and actionable strategies to overcome pandemic-related challenges.