A team of five South Carolina State University students recently earned first place in HP’s fifth-annual HBCU Business Challenge, a competition requiring participants to develop a solution to a real-word task.
Team members Jaevien Akinmola, Selim Ben Ali, Nasjay Bostick, Jessica Outlaw and Keyanna Russ bested teams from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) around the country.
Akinmola, a senior from Manning, majoring in agribusiness at SC State, chalked up the win to more cohesive teamwork than his experience in last year’s competition.
“Everyone handled their duties well,” Akinmola said. “Communication stayed open when it needed to be. If something was going on, it got handled in a timely manner. It was executed to perfection.
“We kept working until everyone just came to an agreement really. When you settle on an actual decision, you just stay on it,” he said.
Akinmola, who hopes to enroll in law school after graduation with sights on a career in agricultural law, found the process of developing a real-life application within a team to be a vital element in his education.
“I feel like it’s very important. It gives a feeling of what it’s going to be like outside of school – to really have to sit and put in the hours of work,” Akinmola said.
The HP Business Challenge called for the HBCU teams to build a model to change the bottom line for one of the technology company’s products, a virtual reality headset.
“This idea is to come up with an extension or someway to make their Reverb G2 VR headset more marketable and boost the sales up,” Ben Ali said. “So, what we did is we extended the field to entertainment, health and gaming.”
Headset users would land in a simulation of a real NFL game.
“You feel like you’re a real athlete on the football field,” Ben Ali said. “You have the ability to pick your favorite team, your favorite position and your favorite player. You can either influence the game or you can leave it in story mode. In story mode, you can just relive the game how it was played — or sports mode where you can influence the game by your abilities.”
Using a tactile wrist band, the game would track the user’s movements, adding the health and fitness component to the SC State team’s approach.
Ben Ali knows a thing or two about fitness. A junior accounting major from Tunisia, he came to SC State on a tennis scholarship. Both the men’s and women’s SC State tennis teams are the reigning champions in the Mid-Atlantic Athletic Conference.
“Where I come from is a small country in North Africa. It’s very different than the U.S.,” he said. “I came mainly to play tennis here and combine playing sports and getting the best education.
“The culture, the people here – that’s what made me stay here, even though I had chances to go somewhere else,” said Ben Ali, who sees himself leading a Big Four accounting firm or a Fortune 500 company someday.
For Outlaw, a senior accounting major from Florence, South Carolina, the competition forced her to wade into uncharted waters.
“It made me realize that financial forecasting and analysis is something that I could probably do,” Outlaw said. “I never really had a lot of financial education, because I haven’t taken the financial management class.
“But this project allowed me to experiment with forecasting revenue and expenses and other things to project possible net income for our solution, so that was interesting,” she said.
Outlaw said the team tapped into HP’s annual report, common tax data and other “little nuggets of knowledge” to make projections.
“It took a few articles and a lot of imagination,” Outlaw said.
Russ, a self-described Army brat from Lawton, Oklahoma, elected to attend SC State in part because of the scholarship she received, but the “homey” atmosphere of the school sealed the deal. The senior knew she wanted to major in marketing when she arrived on campus, but because marketing is such a broad field, it took a variety of courses and experiences to set her path.
“I basically found myself in social media, but I’ve also come over into sales a little bit,” Russ said. “I really came here with the focus of being a well-rounded student, so I made sure I was involved with multiple organizations. Getting my feet wet in all different aspects, I’ve really been able to ensure that life after undergrad will be a bright future for me.”
Bostick, who hails from Estill, is a senior accounting student who started out in nursing at another university.
“Ever since I was younger, I always knew the world revolved around business,” she said. “Once I really got involved in the business department, I saw more opportunities for myself. After SC State, I plan on attending grad school. Within five years I hope to be graduated from grad school, have my CPA license and be in real estate in some aspect.”
Bostick said working with her teammates on the HP HBCU Business Challenge was a smooth experience.
“We didn’t really have many disagreements,” she said. “A lot of things we agreed on, but if we did have a disagreement, we really just talked through everything until we agreed to disagree or came to an agreement.”
Along with their coursework in the College of Business, Akinmola, Ben Ali, Outlaw and Russ are enrolled in the Dr. Emily England Clyburn Honors College of Business.
The HP HBCU Business Challenge is the second national championship SC State College of Business students have brought home this year. In September, senior business students Jada Diggs, Seth Harling, Tiffany Major and Shontavia Riggins bested teams from 12 schools across the nation to win the annual National Black MBA Association Undergraduate Case Competition.