Each year in Marietta, Ohio, the Peoples Bank Business Case Competition invites colleges from across the region to compete as they present solutions to real-world business problems. At this year’s competition, African Leadership Academy alumnus Noemi Duker ‘17 and her team from Oberlin College walked away with the grand prize.
Hailing from Ghana and South Africa, Noemi is in her first year of studies at Oberlin College in the U.S. She first learned of the Business Case Competition when she was applying to Oberlin and saw a photo of the Oberlin students who had won the event the previous year. For the competition, teams made up of three students each are given a realistic multi-segment business challenge. Each team must prepare a presentation that gives recommendations related to marketing, human resources, financial analysis, and more, to bank executives. Noemi was initially discouraged from applying when she was told that freshmen students don’t often participate and teams are usually composed of students in their third or fourth years of study. However, she applied regardless and was selected for the team along with two second-year students. Of the fifteen different teams that competed this year, Noemi’s team from Oberlin was the youngest overall. After the initial presentations, the Oberlin team was one of four finalists, before going on to win overall.
Speaking about her decision to participate in the competition, Noemi said, “I asked myself, ‘If I were not at ALA would I still have raised my hand and wanted to go for this?’ and I don’t think I would have….I’ve heard the founders of the school saying ‘We should always try to do the hard things and I kept that in mind.”
Once she had been selected, Noemi and the rest of the Oberlin team focused on making the most out of this hands-on learning opportunity rather than making it to the finalist round. Nevertheless, they walked away with a trophy and the $1,500 prize money. When asked what she thought gave their team the extra edge, Noemi responded, “A lot of it was just working and reworking what we had because we met many times.” The team sought and implemented feedback from multiple professors as well. All of these elements combined reminded Noemi strongly of the BUILD process, which is ALA’s hallmark design-thinking process that’s integral to many parts of the Academy’s curriculum. Additionally, just like when she was studying at ALA, Noemi was working within a culturally diverse team. With one teammate from the US and another from China, Noemi noted that they each brought unique perspectives to the challenge that were shaped by their home contexts.
When it came time to present, Noemi also felt that their team gave a slightly more dynamic presentation than others. The team’s creativity led her to the first of her two biggest takeaways from the experience – “Go with your creative instinct and try to stand out.” She acknowledged that business competition can sound quite dry, so finding more creative ways to make their point was important to her. And the second thing that she learned?, “Age doesn’t matter… if you want to do something, if you believe in something, you should just go for it.”
As Noemi celebrates her team’s win, she is already thinking about putting her prize money towards another entrepreneurial venture in the future.
If you know of a young leader like Noemi and would like them to apply to ALA, nominate them today.