Business Students Win Regional KPMG Innovation & Collaboration Challenge

Learning to create innovative solutions to real-world problems is what a CSU College of Business education is all about, so it’s no surprise that a team of four business students took first place in the regional round of KPMG’s Innovation and Collaboration Challenge. Team members Savannah Babish (Accounting), Briana Davine (Accounting and Finance), Sierra Ladin (Finance and Marketing), and Conor Ryan (Computer Information Systems) will now travel to New York City in February to compete in the U.S. finals. If they win, they’ll earn a spot in April’s global finals in Buenos Aries.

From left: Briana Davine, Sierra Ladin, Jenna Wesselhoeft of KPMG, Savannah Babish and Conor Ryan.

A Real-World Challenge

The KPMG Innovation and Collaboration Challenge (KICC) asks students from around the world to create an innovative solution to a real-world client problem. This year, students were tasked with answering one question: What innovations would help to empower people in disadvantaged communities to take control of their own health and well-being?

Tough Competition

The College of Business team competed against groups from three other schools: the University of Kansas, the University of Missouri, and the University of Michigan. Although the College of Business team came into the competition at a disadvantage—unlike the other teams, they hadn’t worked together as a group or presented their solution at a state contest—they bested several tough rivals to come out on top.

The team members said they felt privileged to compete in KICC and that they learned a lot at the competition.

“It was an amazing experience being able to compete with other College of Business students and represent CSU,” said Briana Davine.

Students submitted a brief before the competition outlining their proposal, then collaborated with KPMG mentors in a two-hour workshop at the event to refine their solution. The teams had one hour to develop a presentation of their solution and then presented their idea to a panel of KPMG firm leaders, who evaluated each team’s solution and conducted a vigorous Q&A session.

Collaborative Solution

The business team’s idea centered on helping a staffing firm find innovative ways to both provide personnel to its clients and help disadvantaged people in its community. Their solution was a three-month seminar focusing on rehabilitation and job-skill development for people experiencing drug addiction and homelessness. The first half of the seminar focused on rehabilitation from drug addiction, while the second half focused on developing career skills. The staffing firm’s clients would provide mentoring and guidance during the second phase, making them key stakeholders in successful outcomes.

Innovative Outcome

Participants who successfully completed all three months of the program would be given jobs with one of the stakeholder companies, which was the end goal of the team’s solution, according to team member Sierra Ladin.

Ladin said the challenge asked the student teams to disrupt and transform normal business models and really innovate to find solutions that would empower disadvantaged people to control their own health. And although many solutions to difficult problems involve technology, Ladin said the College of Business team was glad to take an alternate tack.

“Innovation doesn’t always have to be about technology,” she said. “We were bringing focus to building community.”

The Next Level

In New York, teams will continue with the same ideas they presented at the regional level. Teams can brainstorm and conduct additional research into their solutions, but they aren’t allowed to take notes, refined slide presentations, or any other materials to the competition. The winner of the U.S. finals competition will participate in the global final in Buenos Aries, where they will be presented with several new challenges.

Ladin partially credits the business team’s win to its diverse business and educational backgrounds. Team members came from several different College majors, and Ladin said that diversity of thought gave the team a strong approach to creative problem solving.

“We all came at it from different ways,” she said, and melding those multiple perspectives helped create an innovative—and winning—solution.