Business Analytics Students Enter the "Shark Tank"

 Published: July 27, 2016

Student Presenting to InvestorsFor months students of Adjunct Professor Jerome Pfeiffer, MBA '02, prepared for this very day - for the Master's Shark Tank experience, the one assignment that for many students will determine their final grade for the term.

Each semester students of Pfeiffer's Data Analytics course take on the role of entrepreneurs by pitching an original business concept to a team of hand-picked Dallas executives, acting as "investors". In this assignment, rather than monetary assets, students' final grades are at stake.

For Aswathy Vinu, MS '17, whose team only has information technology experience, it's a daunting task. "Since this is so new to our team, we've spent a significant amount of time analyzing the financial feasibility of our idea and meticulously preparing our pitch to highlight the data we've collected," said Vinu.

With over 20 years of financial experience in companies such as Frontier Communications, Office Depot and RadioShack, Pfeiffer was inspired to create the project by the hit television show "Shark Tank".

"In my career as a finance professional I found what mattered most in pitching an idea wasn't necessarily the content but the presentation. I developed this assignment because a key aspect of a solid graduate school education is the ability to present complicated data to executives concisely and persuasively," said Pfeiffer.

Business leaders invited to evaluate the students included, Aref Ali, CFO of Sealco Data Center Services; Karen Rankin director of business development for RSM US LLP; CEO of PediaPlex Sonia Kirkpatrick, MBA '11; and Tom Jewell, director of advisory services for TravisWolff.

"Having executives present brings an entirely different element to this project," said Vinu. "We have to be well prepared to stay one step ahead of the investors. A critical aspect of this assignment is anticipating what questions they'll have which could range from the finances to the business plan or even your market research."

While the grading rubric contained content and analysis of data, additional factors included logic and flow as well as presentation skills.

"Throughout the semester students have learned to identify and apply statistical tools and techniques to analyze data and financial information. The Master's Shark Tank exercise encompasses all of that knowledge developed in the classroom into a real world arena, persuading CFOs and CEOs of real businesses to take a chance," said Pfeiffer.

For Kirkpatrick, whose own nonprofit was launched after she took first place in a UD business plan competition, participating in Pfeiffer's Master's Shark Tank is an especially personal experience. "This is very real to me," said Kirkpatrick. "This is how my own business got started."

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