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Undergrads shine in competition dominated by grad students

Four undergrads and one MBA join forces for third-place finish

RBC's J-F Courville and Avi Pollock with students Sergio Betancourt, Haseong Kim, Yiming Shao, Hatsumi Hirota, Yuhao Zhao and RBC's Bruce Ross (photo courtesy RBC)

In a competition typically dominated by MBA candidates, a team of Arts & Science undergraduate students surprised everyone by winning third place.

Now in its eighth year, the RBC Next Great Innovator Challenge is a nationwide contest in which teams of post-secondary students answer a real-world business challenge.

This year, first place went to a team of MBA students from U of T's Rotman School of Business, comprising Aneta Filiciak and Shehan De Silva of the evening MBA program, Leon Smith of the morning MBA program and Katie Wigmore of the full time MBA program. But the big surprise was the University of Toronto Enterprise Evolution team or UTEE.

Made up of four statistical sciences and one Rotman MBA student, the UTEE team prepared for the event with the help of the University of Toronto’s Impact Centre. They were incredible, said Sergio Betancourt, a fourth-year statistics student.

“They helped us formulate our solution, finalize our concept, and prepare for the final presentation. Without their mentorship, we wouldn’t have made it.”

This year, the teams were asked to suggest an innovative concept that would enable RBC to use big data to create a competitive advantage. 

“Our pitch involved analyzing RBC’s customer segmentation structure and coming up with a new model to highlight important information,” said Yiming Shao, also a fourth-year student and vice-president of the U of T Statistical Sciences Association of Students. “Using data, we were able to identify clients with the greatest earning potential and likelihood of success.”

Shao learned of the contest at a campus recruiting event.

“I was very interested in this competition as it fit in perfectly with one of our statistics club’s research projects. Most teams are formed in a class – and participation is mandatory – but we decided to enter on our own. We had the passion and the personal interest — and thanks to the Impact Centre, we got some great practice and advice.”

The students walked away from the contest with a lot more than the $3000 prize.

"We gained a deeper understanding of financial innovation and business analysis and made new contacts in the banking industry,” said Yuhao Zhao, a third-year statistics student. “But most of all, we proved that we – a team of mostly undergraduates – can compete with the best MBA students from across Canada.”

Other members of the team included Hatsumi Hirota, a Rotman MBA candidate and fellow statistics student, Haseong Kim.

Christine Elias is a writer with the Faculty of Arts & Science at the University of Toronto.

February 18, 2014

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