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First-year students earn more than grades in CPA business plan competition

It’s a challenging time to be entering the workforce. The job market is highly competitive and employers are looking for people with specialized business knowledge and “soft skills,” like communication, teamwork and leadership. These skills can be learned, but are often not taught.

Team IndePendant celebrates their first-place win in the Rotman Commerce 2019 RSM 100 business plan competition, sponsored by CPA Ontario.

Professor Michael Khan is aiming to change that by adding a new component to the first-year Rotman Commerce course Introduction to Management.

Known as RSM100, the course introduces the principal disciplines of management. Students explore the role of business in society and learn about the key management areas of strategy, marketing, human resources, operations, accounting, and finance.

But to start preparing students to enter the workforce after graduation, Khan had to go beyond what the textbook offers.

“RSM100 is the largest course offered at Rotman Commerce and it’s mandatory for all first-year students,” said Khan, who has taught the course for over eight years. “I wanted to add something that could be a memorable and defining component of the Rotman Commerce experience.”

He decided to add a business plan competition as a course component.

Khan assigned students to teams and asked them to develop business plans, which were pitched to the class at the end of the semester. Six teams then competed in the final round, held on January 8. CPA Ontario sponsored the competition and the top three teams shared $5,000 in prize money.

While the students were clearly thrilled with the awards, for Khan, the money was not the point.

“Some of our students speak English as a second language, so writing a detailed business plan is a great learning opportunity for them. And some are shy, so presenting in front of a group is development,” he explained. “Any student that was outside of their comfort zone and got exposed to something new is a winner for me. The cash is just gravy.”

Sean Mullin, a student recruiter with CPA Ontario, sees the partnership with RSM100 as a way for students to develop the vital skills that business professionals need to thrive.

“CPA Ontario knows the value of experiential learning and applying business skills to real world scenarios,” said Mullin. “Regardless of which specialization students choose, CPA Ontario wants to strongly encourage extracurricular involvement and getting diverse experience to stand out to future employers and recruiters.”

The winning team, indePendant, embraced the growing field of wearable tech to pitch a personal safety device in the form of stylish jewellery. Team members Sabrina Shafi and Sylvia Qi agree that the competition was an enlightening learning experience.

“I learned so much over the course of both RSM100 and this case competition,” said Shafi, citing teamwork, collaboration, creativity, and presentation skills as key aspects of the process.

For Qi, the competition helped her to understand applied knowledge. “It was a great introduction to the business world because it involved applying what I already know about operational and financial planning.”

As for what they plan to do with that “gravy” prize money?

Shafi intends to spend it on a trip to Florida with her sister, while Qi plans on investing it.

The other members of team indePendant are Enzo Hao, Jack Hewitt, Emily Kemp, and Adnan Khan.