Six students from Mercer County Community College (MCCC) were all business at the 2019 New Jersey County College Case Competition at Rutgers Business School on April 5, capturing first prize for their creative, yet practical, business plan for a fledging chocolate company. The competition, now in its fourth year, is sponsored by Rutgers Business School and M&T Bank.
Students Ahmed Alvi of South Brunswick, Nunana Honutse of Hamilton, Kevin Pogreszewski of Hamilton, Aaron Van Cleaf of Hamilton, Shuchen Wei of Lawrenceville, and Mable Yeboah of Hamilton worked on the case from the early days of the spring semester, spending approximately 60 hours on what would be a prize-winning business strategy.
With guidance from MCCC Business Administration faculty members Laura Sosa and Eva Csige, and Alvyn Haywood (Communication), the team delivered a presentation that stood out among teams from Bergen, Hudson, Middlesex, Sussex, which won second place, and Morris, which won third. Members of the winning teams received cash awards.
Sosa notes that the team’s diversity was one of its strengths. “They were equally split by gender and had two students from Ghana, one from China and one from Pakistan,” she said. “The ability to work with people from diverse backgrounds is a global skill demanded in the workforce. “This experience will be quite an asset for these students.”
In building their strategy, the team reached out to experts at the Small Business Development Center at The College of New Jersey and M&T Bank, as well as distributors. They also conducted a survey of 200-plus MCCC students and staff members about their chocolate buying habits and what would make them willing to pay more for the confection.
Alvi explained that their approach included creating the role of the company’s owner, “Mary,” played by Yeboah. Additionally, they factored niche events like weddings and a “mobile treat truck” into their marketing strategy. Lastly, they added a Corporate Social Responsibility component, selecting Smile Train, the medical organization that works globally to provide corrective surgery for children with cleft lips and palates, to receive a portion of the profits.
As part of their research, team members visited the MCCC Culinary Center, where they learned about types of chocolate and the chocolate making process. They brought chocolates prepared by the culinary program to the competition and distributed samples to the judges. The chocolates were decorated with a white chocolate drizzle and topped with a cranberry, reflecting New Jersey’s position as the country’s third largest grower of these berries.
A panel of experts and a Rutgers Business School instructor served as judges: M&T Bank executives Mallory Boron and Thomas Comiskey, Prudential Financial executive Jennifer Rodrigues, Frank Giarratano of SGW Integrated Marketing Communications, and Rutgers faculty member Arturo Osorio.
Sosa and Csige cannot stress enough how proud they are this team. “The way they approached this case came very close to real life,” Sosa said. “We feel great about the win, but the growth that I saw in these students was even more rewarding. They encouraged each other and gave honest feedback. That is the true definition of teamwork.”