Ross Hosts First Renewable Energy Case Competition

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Founders stake their claim in renewable energy and foresee long-term benefits for students and recruiters.

Case competitions are nothing new at business schools. But a case competition focused on renewable energy? That's definitely new. And it's only at Ross.

On Jan. 29, the school hosted 12 MBA teams from some of the nation's leading business schools for the first Renewable Energy Case Competition presented by Acciona Energy and the Karl Friedman Family Foundation. Acciona Energy, a world leader in the renewable energy sector, contributed to the case content and had numerous representatives at the two day event.

"I'd been searching for a competition that focused on renewables, but there weren't any," says competition co-founder Brian Katzman, MBA/MS '10. He was inspired to launch the Ross event after attending the 2008 National Energy Finance Challenge at the McCombs School of Business (University of Texas at Austin). 

Katzman (left) and co-founder David Cieminis (right), MBA/MS '10, knew they would have to move quickly to stake the Ross School's claim in the renewable energy space. "Someone, somewhere was going to create a renewable energy conference or competition and we wanted it to be Ross so that recruiters and students know we're the place to go for it," Cieminis says. "So many great things have already been done at Ross, but this is one opportunity we had to create a legacy for people interested in renewable energy and the greater community."

The competition attracted teams from Harvard Business School, Cornell University's Johnson School, Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, Columbia Business School, University of Chicago's Booth School of Business, UCLA's Anderson School of Management, UNC's Kenan-Flagler Business School, Dartmouth University's Tuck School of Business, and U-T's McCombs School.

Peter Duprey, CEO of Acciona Energy North America and country manager of Acciona United States, worked with other staff at the company to help Cieminis and Katzman write the case. Duprey also judged the competition. "We wanted to deal with issues that a utility executive or renewable power CEO would have to wrestle with," said Duprey in the keynote speech during the event. "If I were coming out of an MBA program, I'd want to work in this industry because it's so dynamic and broad."

Acciona Energy's Scott Baron, MBA '04, served as a judge. He is the company's global product line developer. The competition's other presenting sponsor was the Friedman Family Foundation, whose president is Karl Friedman, MBA '71. Additional sponsors included Chevron, Atwell, Duke Energy, Beacon Power, Solar Reserve, DTE Energy, Sargent & Lundy, DANOTEK, ITC, the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise, and the Student Government Association at Ross.

Judges included Rick Bunch, managing director of the Erb Institute, as well as Daniel Gizaw, CEO of DANOTEK, and Farid Berry, vice president of Sargent & Lundy.

In the end, the team from UCLA Anderson took first place, while McCombs and Columbia placed second and third, respectively. Even though Ross didn't take a prize, the competition founders say the school stands to gain the most from the event.

"We wanted Ross to be known for this," says Cieminis. "Ross already has a strong Net Impact chapter and the Erb Institute, but we also wanted recruiters to know that this is one of the top places to come recruit for MBAs interested in renewable energy."

—Leah Sipher-Mann