Taking part in the Universities Business Challenge

In September, I got a student-announce email from the University of Sheffield Enterprise (USE) about taking part in the IBM Universities Business Challenge. As is with the tons of emails we get, I was only going to open and close it because I can’t stand having unread emails. However, I didn’t because it seemed interesting. To avoid talking myself out of it I quickly signed up to participate in a selection activity. At the time, I thought it would be interesting to give it a shot. The emails specified that only two teams from each selection event would become USE teams. Though the odds weren’t great, having a selection event warmed me up slowly to the idea of being part of the challenge.

At the selection event, teams were formed randomly. Whoever happened to be sitting at the same table with me became my team member. Theoretically, this doesn’t seem like a nice idea but it turned out great. So much so that, after running a fictitious pizza business, we placed first at the selection event. Then, we went through to the first round. This lasted for six weeks from October until the beginning of December. We met every Sunday at the Diamond to submit decision forms as the board of a company. There were a lot of numbers involved but this changed quite a bit when we got to the second round.

We attended the semi-final at the Octagon along with 29 other teams from different universities in the UK (including other Sheffield teams). It was a bit nerve-wracking for me because the tasks became less quantitative and had a bit to do with being creative. The first two exercises didn’t leave my team feeling very confident but we didn’t let the quality of our work slip. I think it was knowing that we couldn’t sit back and relax as well as our team leader’s smashing pitch that clinched our winning spot. I know that now but on the day, it was very shocking for everyone in my team.

At the end of the finals at the IBM Southbank office in London, one of the lecturers who had accompanied another team said to us, “I think you peaked at the semi-finals,” and he was right. We weren’t any less nervous or any more confident but we came 7th out of the 10 final teams. Technically, that is 7th out of over 290 teams in the whole challenge but we had gone from just being curious to being really interested in winning so it was a downer. If I had somehow seen the future, I still would have gone to the selection event.

Why? I got to be part of a really great team and I learnt so many new things. I got to listen to a fantastic speech about design from an IBM-er at IBM’s beautiful Southbank office. I got to walk around London, taking in the sights while feeling a tad sad but ultimately grateful. Most importantly, I don’t have to wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t tried.

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