During the spring 2017 semester, four part-time MBA students studying at the Washington, D.C., campus of the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business participated in the AECOM Innovation Challenge – a two-credit independent study course.
Stephanie Bo, Andrew Boyd, Eric Horan, and CJ Mulligan joined the AECOM inventors to build a business plan with an innovative solution to a complex challenge facing the company. The Maryland Smith MBAs worked on the SMARTSite project, which was one of five winning ideas. AECOM received more than 700 employee submissions, and the top 25 ideas were selected for further development with MBA students from top business schools.
The SMARTSite project belonged to the “City of the Future” innovation category, which the Smith team described as “a development of a service offering that leveraged existing contracts and where they saw the marketplace going.”
Ben Solomon, an adjunct professor at Smith and CEO of Hyperion Technologies, was the faculty adviser for the course. Solomon also leads the Fed Tech program at Smith, which is sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and includes more than 20 labs in the federal system and in colleges nationwide.
UMD alumnus Phil Horvitz, chief technology officer in the Advanced Technology Office at AECOM Management Services, was excited to have Terps participate in the inaugural competition. He said that the 721 idea submissions amounted to an extraordinary level of competition.
“The MBA students Ben assembled did a terrific job in supporting our team and building up the business case for SMARTSite,” said Horvitz. “I know they gained valuable experience and maybe even had a little fun while working with our folks.”
The challenge was divided into six units and each unit had a different deliverable: products and services, market analysis, competitor analysis, risk assessment, marketing and sales plan, operational plan, financial plan, and IP and valuation.
Although they’re all in the part-time MBA D.C. program, the students hadn’t worked together before this project, and they agreed that a highlight of the AECOM Innovation Challenge was the teamwork aspect. They scheduled a daily lunchtime conference call and collaborated on their work virtually. As part-time MBA students, they were juggling jobs, families and other coursework. Participating in the challenge was more work than they anticipated, but they were all committed to putting in the extra time and effort necessary to do it right.
“I liked our internal team – we worked really well together,” said CJ Mulligan. “It was an insane amount of work, and we were able to provide something very valuable to AECOM.” Mulligan said a highlight of the project was working with the AECOM production team on a 45-second video – something completely outside his normal work environment.
Along with having a fantastic team, the students enjoyed getting hands-on experience in new areas and the entrepreneurial aspect of the project.
Eric Horan said, “From my perspective, our expertise was very valuable because we could frame it in a business model way. We could take their engineering background and make it into a business case.”
Andy Boyd said that he’s a huge fan of experiential learning and hopes to start his own business one day. “I always jump on these opportunities. It’s a great way to go through every step of a business plan. I was able to use my own expertise and learn new things in risk and information technology. I got very familiar with the U.S. Patent website,” he said.
As a career switcher, Stephanie Bo was eager to get some real-world experience in a different field and work with executives in a well-known company. “I was given the opportunity to work with VPs and think outside the box. Study all you want, but the real-world scenario is completely different!”
Horan recommends this course to anyone with an interest in entrepreneurship. “If you’re interested in disruption, design thinking or lean start-ups, you would find this course fascinating,” he said. “Go in there and figure it out. Deal with assumptions and tweak the business model to make it attractive to the executives.”
AECOM is an American multinational engineering firm that provides design, consulting, construction, and management services to a wide range of clients. The AECOM Global Challenge is designed to foster achievement and celebrate success from across the globe. It sparks natural curiosity, supports discovery, and promotes the core skills and processes of innovation, while encouraging teamwork.
- Alissa Arford, Office of Marketing Communications