Young business entrepreneurs win analytics tournament

MSBA Launches with UC Davis Bookstore Analytics Tournament
Teams leap in to solve real business challenge

Think broadly. Apply a business angle. Take a more holistic approach. This was the winning strategy for Sonic Prabhudesai and his team.

Prabhudesai was tackling a real-world business problem with actual data on his first day of class. He had just begun Boot Camp for the Master of Science in Business Analytics at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management.  

“I was impressed by how thorough the teams were when all they had so far was orientation.” 
— Jane Kendall, an industry expert consulting on creativity and collaboration for the MSBA projects

Prabhudesai’s teammates hailed from three countries. They included Chuan “Stone” Shi, Jiayin Ma, Kemal Yilmaz and Yanan Liu. Beyond cultural differences and the fact that they coded software in three different languages, their challenge for the class tournament was to find the best analytical tools to help the UC Davis Bookstore solve its problem with forecasting and planning textbook inventory.

“We’ve been launched into the thick of things really quickly,” says Prabhudesai, the self-proclaimed “business guy” of the group. “On the second day, we were up until 11 p.m. trying to solve it and win.”

Young business entrepreneurs win analytics tournament

Group Learning through Active Challenges

For the last five years in India, Prabhudesai had been helping to grow a startup. When the company was acquired, he was left wondering how he could boost his marketing and business skills for the next step in his career. The charter class of the MSBA program was his chance to begin that new path.

The business market today is seeing a rapidly growing need for those like Prabhudesai, who can match their deeper expertise in analytics, statistics or data science with the demands of the actual workplace. The MSBA program is designed for students who may be confident in those technical abilities but haven’t had the experience with group activities.

“We’ve been launched into the thick of things really quickly.” 
— MSBA student Sonic Prabhudesai

Corporate partner projects are a core component of the MSBA program. They provide students a real-world experience through immersive challenges, which are all part of a final project that builds throughout the course’s 10 months.

“By design, every team challenge is being tackled by a multidisciplinary group of people,” says Jane Kendall, an industry expert consulting on creativity and collaboration for the MSBA projects. “There are very few programs out there focused on getting those kinds of professionals prepared for that experience.”

Creative Tribes for Innovation

Kendall broke the students into “creative tribes” to lead them in brainstorming improvement for their tools. During the presentations, the whole class became involved in the outcome, helping each team flesh out their proposals.

“I was impressed by how thorough the teams were when all they had so far was orientation,” she said. “They’re producing solutions that have legs.”

Prabhudesai’s team broke their strategy into three parts: adopt software for the bookstore that collects more data on textbook sales; then predict the demand by analyzing enrollment numbers and other information; and lower costs by connecting the store directly to the cheapest suppliers. 

The wide range of solutions the eight teams presented showed “incredible innovation,” says Michael Hurlston, a senior vice president at Broadcom and volunteer judge for the tournament.

“It was a fantastic event,” he said. “The groups did an outstanding job explaining, in simple terms, their ideas and algorithms.”

The bookstore managers found the solutions to be immediately useful and were already beginning to implement some of the ideas.

“The presentations were very insightful,” says UC Davis Bookstore Director Aaron Ochoa, who also served as a judge for the tournament. “I cannot believe the amount of effort that went into this project from the students.”