Professor Fung joined fellow capstone course professors Betsy Baton and Dan Kopman in supporting students who participated in the event. Prior to the event, around 210 capstone seniors worked in teams of five or six to develop and pitch projects designed to support the growth of one of two clients. The three professors then selected eleven teams to move on to the final event, where they presented their work in groups to the clients themselves. Garden for Wildlife CEO Shubber Ali and ModPod founder Charles Vinal led judge panels made up of business leaders—many AU alums—with consulting, venture capital, nonprofit, and technological experience. The panels listened to the teams’ ideas for strategy, branding, partnerships, and beyond, engaged them in a question-and-answer session, and ultimately selected four teams to move on to a highly competitive final round.
I think that all of the final four were winners. The judges said that it came down to a fraction of a percent between the teams.”
The team that came out on top in this close race was Mission ModPossible, made up of Kogod students Michael Bleeker, Jack Green, Frances Morales, Guinevere Pijor, and Yousef Shabana. They impressed judges with their preparation, insight, and thoughtful answers to the judges’ questions and were recognized by the client they had spent the semester working on concepts for. ModPod’s Vinal was particularly engaged with the capstone courses throughout the semester, reaching out to students beyond the initial project development to offer advice and watch the progress unfold in real-time. With one of the ModPod projects taking home the top award, he could see the results of that investment in Kogod’s students.
Faced with the difficult task of narrowing the teams down to four and then to just one champion, judges across the board were impressed by the students’ expertise and confidence in their projects. One of them, SALTUS president Nenad Dordevic, remarked to Baton that he was shocked to learn that the students were undergraduates, as they answered questions with such expertise that he had assumed they were in the MBA program. “In each round, he asked them tough, sophisticated business questions thinking they were at the graduate level,” Baton recalled. “He was flabbergasted to learn they were seniors.”
Highlighting the professionalism of Kogod’s capstone students motivated the event’s team to host the event in the first place. Kogod senior associate dean Parthiban David has long been interested in featuring the capstone program’s students and the projects they spend a semester on. This year’s competition finally brought that idea to fruition. With Kogod staff Jim Waite and Chloe Irwin coordinating alums involvement and management professor Tom Kohn working with capstone project clients, the event's success was a Kogod-wide effort. As Professor Kohn mentioned, it also required the clients' engagement.
“Capstone clients introduce the project at the beginning of the semester, sometimes come to see the mid-semester presentation, and attend the final presentations to listen and give our students feedback,” he explained. “Of course, the best clients also like to teach, give back, and interact with the students.” Over the past eight years, Kohn has brought in over forty companies to work with his capstone students and focuses on finding partners that will provide not only projects but valuable lessons as well.
While teaching from books can be good and teaching from case studies better, giving the students projects with real clients and real problems that may even change across the semester is the best way to teach, in my opinion.”
The Capstone Championship and the capstone courses provide graduating Kogod students with real, hands-on business experience before they begin their careers—an experience Professor Kohn believes is critical to their success. “Through these experiential projects, I think we’re best-preparing students for the work world, where working hard and adjusting as necessary are the keys to success,” he said. Students in Kogod’s capstone courses get the opportunity to work with businesses that interest them and showcase that work for an audience at events like this semester’s championship.