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Graduate Case Competition Yields Innovative Results

By Alyssa Clementi

The Tampa Riverwalk is one of the most successful, up and coming attractions in the downtown area, spanning 2.4 miles and acting as home to restaurants, nightlife, parks, and more. The non-profit organization Friends of the Riverwalk, which helps attract residents and tourists alike to the area, challenged a select group of Muma College of Business graduate students to devise a plan to improve the Tampa Riverwalk, using real-world partnerships, to bring more visitors to the downtown area. The students had 24 hours to solve the challenge and then present their solutions to a team of senior executives from the Tampa Bay community.

The winning team recommended renting shipping containers to local businesses and restaurants who would then use the containers as seasonal store fronts, along with four connected barges in the river used as a floating entertainment venue.


At 8:00 a.m on Oct. 1, a Friday morning, students were debriefed by Shaun Drinkard, executive director, and Troy Manthey, board chair of Friends of the Riverwalk and CEO of Yacht Starship Dining Cruises. The case introduction took place at the Barrymore Hotel, so that students could easily tour the Riverwalk to help brainstorm and plan.

The case study had two parts. The first to develop a business plan for two undeveloped areas along the Riverwalk. These two areas are located outside the Barrymore Hotel, along the river, and a 39- acre riverfront property north of the hotel on the Riverwalk, owned by Tampa Armature Works.

The second part of the case study consisted of the creation of a Mosaic Platform Project, using four 12-foot by 40-foot floating barges. These floating barges could be connected or disconnected to form either a larger stage or four individual stages. The team's specific task was to create working, viable business models for the floating space – and details about the expected returns for each of the usages that the students saw recommended.

The tour consisted of a Pirate Water Taxi ride, which travelled to both ends of the Riverwalk and gave competitors a first-hand look at the undeveloped spaces included in the case study, as well as already established businesses lining the river.

After the tour, students returned to the Barrymore Hotel for one-on-one's with Drinkard. Students had until 7:45 a.m to develop an implementation plan for their recommendations and a pro-forma budget. They also submitted business models for the Mosaic Platform Project, with projected financial returns.

The teams had the option of staying at the Barrymore Hotel or traveling back the Muma College of Business to work all night on the case study. Most students came prepared, bringing a change of clothes and their toothbrushes, knowing they would not be going home anytime soon.

Some of the teams wrapped up their efforts close to midnight, while others worked well into Saturday morning. Coffee, chocolate covered espresso beans, pizza boxes and empty Redbull cans were scattered around the 6 working rooms, along with a few tired students taking quick power naps on the floor.

Presentations started at promptly 8:00 the next morning. Judges Christine Burdick, who is President of the Tampa Downtown Partnership and a Riverwalk Board Member, Ashly Anderson, who is a placemaking and urban design manager and part of the Tampa Downtown Partnership, Adam Stanfield who is Friends RiverFest Chair, and executive director of SPCA, Evan Johnson, who is senior project manager at Tindale Oliver, Ron Fleisher who is a consultant and executive coach, and David C. Waldron, who is president of White Whale Solutions, joined Drinkard and Manthey in a private room to listen to the pitches.

Entrepreneurship students Estevan Serrano, Maham Khan, Farah Abid, Stephanie Costolo, and Pranali Panjwaniwon took first place.

They suggested a "Container Connection" which would prompt local businesses and restaurants to rent empty shipping containers and spread them along the Riverwalk, filling them temporarily or (permanently) with food or goods. These containers could be interchangeable, depending on the season or month, and would generate a greater revenue due to increase in foot traffic. The plan also included a calendar model for monthly concerts, light shows, and holiday decorations that could be displayed on the floating barges in the river.

Along with the winners, 20 other graduate students participated in the case study, and although they did not all place first, they took it as a learning process.

"I learned that team members matter, I learned that answers must be fully driven and include details," said Linda Quinn, entrepreneurship major. "Additionally, it was confirmed that setting and knowing rules are very important in the process with team members and with the case itself."

As part of the annual Muma College of Business Graduate Business Case Study Competition, which took place over the two-day period of Sept. 30 – Oct. 1, the case competition is organized by Muma College of Business professors, Mike Bowen, K. Doreen MacAulay and Sharon Hanna-West.

The winning team will represent USF in the 15th Annual Florida Intercollegiate Business Case Competition in February. Hosted by the Muma College of Business, the competition brings teams from University of Florida, Florida State University, University of Miami and Florida International University together to solve similar real world-challenges in 24 hours.