Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Net Impact Rebounds and Team Wins Leeds Case Competition

Just a year and a half ago, a lack of interest had shrunk UGA’s chapter of Net Impact to only one active member. Luckily, a few interested students began to meet regularly to discuss trends in sustainability, nonprofits, and social enterprise. As we became good friends, the club took off.  We attended the Net Impact conference in Baltimore, hosted several events, and were named a “gold” chapter by the end of the year. We also entered the Leeds Net Impact Case Competition, the first time a team from UGA had done so, and were thrilled to make it to the semi-final round. Our team competed again this year, and we were out to win!
     The Leeds Net Impact Case Competition in Boulder, CO is focused on solving real world sustainability issues and, as fun as it is, it is also a ton of work. The first round gave us two weeks to examine how investing in different technologies would affect a company’s “triple bottom line,” people and planet along with profit. Working in a team of four, we split up research and worked whenever we could find time between classes and homework. After advancing, we were given another case before the final round in Colorado. The time required could have been overwhelming, but my teammates and I are all serious about Net Impact and competitions are an incredible learning experience. I was happy to give up my free time to research regulations on pollution and discover how acceptance of global warming will affect energy sector profits. It wasn’t hard to convince my teammates to give up nights and weekends to dig into natural gas pricing forecasts or how pollution affects worker safety. This was our chance to use what we’re learning in a scenario we care about.
Our team was made up of close friends. We didn’t waste time deciding who would be responsible for what research because we already know what everyone’s strengths are and what each is passionate about. We didn’t mind spending hours working together, because we’d be together anyway. And in Colorado as we answered questions from the judges, we supported each Net Impact each other and kept each other calm.
The first night in Boulder was stressful as people finalized their presentations, but it was also exciting and fun to meet people with similar interests. As someone who is usually wary of “networking,” I found it easy to connect with the other teams and we talked with people from all over the country. Funnily enough, we spent a lot of time with our neighbors from Georgia Tech, who also had a team make it to the semi-finals.  
On the day of the competition, they paired each team up with a Colorado student. Our buddy, Reid, shuffled us to a classroom to present in the morning and ate lunch with us while we waited for the results. We all felt good about our presentation, but were happily shocked to hear we had advanced to the final round. Because of an unlucky draw we presented last in the finals, meaning we were quarantined with the other finalists and our CU buddies for the next 6 hours. Thankfully, Reid is one of the friendliest people I’ve ever met and he helped to ease our nervous energy. This was another time I was happy to be on a team with friends who could help pass time in an anxious situation!
The sponsoring company this year was Johns Manville, a Berkshire Hathaway building supplies company headquartered in Denver. Our final presentation was to 10 judges, including their CEO and several executives. Presenting is obviously a big part of business school, and we’ve all had practice at it. But, presenting recommendations to such important people, along with other competitors, was justifiably nerve-wracking. I am incredibly proud of how confidently each of my team members presented their points. Kari Baker spoke passionately about improving worker safety and our economy, Betsy Curry easily explained energy use and cost in a way that everyone could understand, and Ariel Brassil answered the judges’ questions by referencing energy theorists and books she reads in her free time. The experience of successfully presenting to such an impressive group gives each of us a confidence boost. It is absolutely the best learning experience I have had in business school.
That night at dinner Mary Rhinehart, the CEO of Johns Manville, presented the awards. After hearing Purdue University place third and Notre Dame place second, we were tense. We spent the weekend struggling to not get our hopes up, so it was an enormous relief and incredibly exciting to hear University of Georgia announced as the winner! The judges later told us they appreciated how cohesive our presentation was and that we each referenced each other while we spoke. This came, I think, since we were among friends. We all worked hard because it was an enjoyable experience for us and we created a memorable, passionate presentation because no part of it was faked.  
I am incredibly proud of how far our club has come; we now have 20 active members. I’m sad to graduate and not be a part of UGA Net Impact next year, but I’m excited to see all that my friends will accomplish. I, of course, expect UGA to uphold our title at the Net Impact Case Competition so I look forward to reading about that next spring!