SMU MBA Team Beats Global Competitors at the 2020 NC State Grand Business Challenge

The Singapore Management University’s Team Unicorn, comprising MBA students Yang Manli, Seah Eng Chye, Kelvin Wong and Eugene Tan, beat fierce global competition to emerge first runner-up at the 2020 NC State Grand Business Challenge

This year’s Challenge, held from 20 to 22 February 2020 on the campus of NC State University, was focused on cybersecurity risks in the pharmaceutical value chain. SMU’s Team Unicorn, the only Asian team that competed, held steady against its eight competitor teams from American and European business schools.  There were three rounds of competition to surmount, comprising the Foundation Challenge, Succession Challenge and the finals.

While the Foundation Challenge was about identifying the cybersecurity risk in the pharmaceutical value chain, the Succession Challenge required teams to create a cybersecurity framework for the pharmaceutical industry and show how this framework could be implemented.

Teams that made it to the finals then pit their wits in the Grand Business Challenge, which presented the scenario of a new hypothetical $5 billion dollar pharmaceutical company. Each team was required to tackle complexities, from the setting up of the cybersecurity team to the allocation of budget for adequate cybersecurity measures that could sufficiently safeguard the new company’s value chain.

“Participating in the Challenge taught us to be prepared to make changes on the go,” commented Eugene. “Even the best plans had to be adjusted according to the situation. It was also a great opportunity for us to apply what we had learnt from our SMU MBA programme – we applied concepts from modules such as Corporate Finance and Digital Transformation to the case scenario. The knowledge and skills we had acquired from the MBA programme equipped us well to adopt a holistic approach instead of a technology-only approach within our recommendation at the Challenge.”

Members of the judging panel comprised business leaders from Merck & Co, Ernst & Young, Cisco, Securonix Inc and Exostar. The competing teams were judged on attributes such as how practical, safe and sustainable their recommendations were.

“The business challenge offered students an interesting insight when it came to safeguarding the pharmaceutical value chain against cyber security threats,” added Eugene. “We witnessed firsthand how IT personnel prioritised patents and IPs of the value chain, while the senior executives prioritised patient safety and business continuity. Compromises in any aspect could lead to reputational risk and loss in shareholder returns. Overall, it has been an invaluable learning experience participating in the Challenge, where we forged friendships with our global competitors from business schools around the world as well.”

The team would also like to take the opportunity to thank mentors, Dr Ser-Keng Ang, Academic Director, Master of Business Administration (MBA) and Dr Jack Hong, Adjunct faculty member at SMU Lee Kong Chian School of Business, for their guidance throughout the competition.

Well done, Team Unicorn!