Podium finish for MEB students at case competition

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Five masters students in business attire smile at camera

L-R: Amber Daniels, Safwan Rahman, Carlos Ruiz, Josephine Pham and Ally Cunliffe

Commercial buildings account for 13% of Canada's carbon outputs but how do you make a business case for reducing these emissions given the costs, risks and competing demands? 

That was the challenge facing five Masters of Environment and Business students who competed in the Rotman Net Impact 2017 Sustainability Innovations Case Competition

As one of 12 teams, Amber Daniels, Ally Cunliffe, Carols Ruiz, Josephine Pham and Safwan Rahman were given just over a month to study the case material and develop a 15-minute pitch. As an added twist, they were tasked not to develop a solution for the client, but rather to come up with an innovative business model, they would then pitch as either a building owner, property manager or entrepreneur.

The team's initial idea was to tackle the challenge from an energy efficiency perspective. "It's the first thing that comes to mind," Daniels admitted. "Even for those that aren’t sustainability or energy focused.” But after consulting with Professor Blair Feltmate, Daniels realized the folly in that approach. "Energy in Ontario and a lot of other provinces is actually green and renewable," she explained. "So we really don't reduce any greenhouse gas emissions by energy efficiency."

Forced to think outside of the box, the team shifted their focus to transportation, and in particular, how to provide sustainable options to the 26% of Canadians who currently call skyscrapers their home. "If you live in a tower building you can't have an electric vehicle," Daniels pointed out. “It’s almost impossible; there’s nowhere to plug it in." When they considered that 80-90% of EV charging takes place at home, the team suspected they were onto something big. 

And they were right. Even though the other teams were stacked with well-seasoned case presenters, all of the other finalists pitched energy-efficiency ideas, setting the stage for Daniels and her colleagues, all rookies at case competitions, to steal the show. “Our idea was so innovative that they all kind of stepped back,” she reflects. “There was this ah-ha moment for them.”

Daniels thinks their idea may have won if they had they focused more on the financial stream. "We approached it in sort of an altruistic way," she explained, saying they pitched as entrepreneurs who would tell building owners how they could implement idea themselves. But the judges' feedback helped them realize they’d landed on a money-making idea. "I think next case competition, which we all are wanting to do, we would probably pitch it more for us making money." 

Still, as first-time pitchers, Daniels and her classmates said the competition was an incredible learning opportunity and they're thrilled with the outcome. "We’re really excited about it. I mean, a group of environmentally-focused people coming in and rocking a business competition, we were pretty happy."

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