OUR BOYS FROM ROTTERDAM
The time has finally come. The air is shimmering with excitement and faces are taut. Neatly dressed in suits, Noah de Zwart (Business, IT and Management), Shruti Guiamo (Industrial Engineering and Management), Diederik Gestel (Management) and Koen Onck (Entrepreneurship and Retail Management) step into the presentation room at Wilfred Laurier University, Canada. Ready to defend our Rotterdam University’s flag.
After a day full of meetings with big companies – all sponsors of the university and the business school in particular – Rotterdam takes on teams from Hong Kong, Portugal and Canada. “Our” guys have to solve a problem from Symcor, one of the companies they met with yesterday. It is a business solutions provider that streamlined and automated cheque payment processes for financial institutions and utilities. But now Symcor needs to look for “innovative solutions to bring in new revenue opportunities in adjacent business verticals.” But which ones are best suited? Where do its qualities as a Business Process Outsourcing company with extensive experience in secure data sharing fit best? Where can the company still grow?
After proper analysis, Koen, Noah, Shruti and Diederik suggest four sectors: Immigration, Education, Logistics and Government. They choose – well-founded – the latter. They come up with a plan that starts modestly in Ontario and then slowly rolls out across the whole country. They also cite concrete government projects in which Symcor could play an immediate role. The experience, expertise and reputation are not a problem; Symcor is a household name in Canada. Diederik leads the panel through the oh-so-important financials and then it’s time for Questions & Answers. Shruti, Koen, Noah and Diederik have answers to all the questions; the judges, all business executives – including from Symcor itself – seem convinced. But then again, you never know. Hong Kong was also good, and Simon Fraser and Porto are still to come.
The last two teams also give a fine presentation. However, they choose a completely different sector “to expand to”: Healthcare. At least the jury has something to choose from. The feedback session doesn’t reveal much. All the jury members are very complimentary about Rotterdam, but maybe it’s courtesy. Shruti, Diederik, Noah and Koen return to the hotel and keep a close eye on their phones. What is today’s ranking? ? At eight o’clock comes the redeeming word … No, third! For a moment we thought we had won today, but the referee is always right. There is hardly any difference between the first three. The task now is simple: win tomorrow and then we will be in the final a day later. One thing is clear: our university, our business school, can compete with the very best teams. Everything is still possible …
As in the Netherlands, more and more people in Canada are getting into debt. Approximately 8 million Canadians have near and subprime credit scores that disqualify them from accessing mainstream financial service providers. That way, they fall into the hands of alternative money providers who charge 30 to 400 per cent interest rate. The debt spiral is huge. Parachute, an alternative lending fintech company with a social mission, cares about their plight. The company is doing well, but now it needs more money to help fund more loans, operations, and expansion. A new business model is needed where Parachute could create social good by providing consolidation loans while educating consumers to overcome their debt burdens. And how do you best reach your customers?
In our division the students from Portugal and Canada do a fine job; both presentations are very good. Then Diederik, Shruti, Koen and Noah enter. After 24 hours of case cracking, they still look remarkably fresh. Diederik enthusiastically starts explaining the key issues. Koen takes us on a “debt trip” and talks about the financial vicious cycle the potential customers are in. Noah discusses competitors and Shruti explains that millennials are the best target group because among them are the most indebted people. So far so good. A good storyline and a logical narrative. But the implementation of the marketing strategy doesn’t come off well and the “why” of partnering with a big commercial bank is not entirely clear either. Not surprisingly, the judges have sharp questions about this, as they do about the financials. Parachute’s CEO is on the jury in person. Noah, Koen, Shruti and Diederik punch their way through the round of questions well; this is the most critical jury so far.
Like Simon Fraser and Porto, Hong Kong is doing very well. Of course, I don’t know yet how we will be ranked today, but certainly not first. So no final this time. It is a pity, but the learning curve was impressive. The boys from Rotterdam made Rotterdam proud …