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Appalachian team places third in WFU’s Retail Innovation Challenge

WINSTON-SALEM—Hatchlings, a student business team from Appalachian State University, finished third in the Wake Forest University School of Business 2013 Retail Innovation Challenge.

View larger imageRiley Keen and Nathan McCracken, both seniors at Appalachian State University, won third prize in the Wake Forest University School of Business 2013 Retail Innovation Challenge. (Photo by Donnie Jones/WFU School of Business)

Senior industrial design majors Riley Keen and Nathan McCracken received $5,000 for their idea to create easy gardening systems with seeds inside eggshells. The seeds would germinate inside the shells, creating a self-contained planting system.

A total of 21 student teams from Wake Forest and top universities around the country traveled to Winston-Salem to pitch their innovative ideas to impact the future of the retail industry. The awards were announced during a ceremony Nov. 15 in Wake Forest’s Deacon Tower at BB&T Field.

For 13 years, Wake Forest hosted The Elevator Competition, allowing students to test their skills at making the perfect elevator pitch to industry executives and venture capitalists about their unique business models. Last year, Wake Forest’s Center for Retail Innovation came forward to challenge students to come up with ideas that could help the retail community create, deliver and capture value.

Here’s how the Retail Innovation Challenge worked. Each team delivered two separate two-minute pitches during the event in Wake Forest’s Deacon Tower at BB&T Field. The premise: teams have bumped into an influential executive at a sporting event and have two minutes to impress him or her with their business pitch.

The five teams with the best innovative ideas, chosen by a panel of business leaders and marketing executives, were invited to the Wake Forest School of Business’s Farrell Hall where they gave a 30-minute formal presentation. The finalists were Appalachian, Purdue University, the University of Pennsylvania and two teams from Wake Forest University, one from the Full-time MBA program in Winston-Salem and the second from the Working Professional MBA program in Charlotte. The top three teams won the cash prizes.

In addition to the competition, participants also learned during a keynote from CVS Caremark’s President and CEO Larry Merlo how the company is preparing for the wave of Baby Boomers turning 65 and older who generally have two to three times more prescriptions than Gen X, Gen Y and the Millennials.

On the second day of the competition, Rob Price, CVS Caremark’s chief marketing officer, moderated a panel discussion on the changes retailers will face when it comes to a more senior population. Jeff Williamson, an expert on aging from the Wake Forest Baptist Health, Jill Puleri, vice president, global industry leader for retail for IBM Global Business Services, and Dave Archer, director of consumer and market knowledge at Procter & Gamble, offered insights about developing community considering that seniors have different interests and abilities, especially when it comes to technology.

Sponsors of the 2013 Wake Forest Retail Innovation Challenge included: CVS Caremark, RockTenn, The Fresh Market, Kangaroo Express, Truliant Federal Credit Union, Bridgetree, Chick-fil-A, The WFU Angell Center for Entrepreneurship and the Wake Forest University School of Business Center for Retail Innovation.

The event was organized and produced by Wake Forest School of Business student volunteers led by co-chairs Blake Armstrong (MBA ’14), Alex Alleman (MBA ’14) and Naomi Freeman (MBA ’14). The faculty advisors were Roger Beahm, executive director of the WFU Center for Retail Innovation, and Stan Mandel, professor of practice at the school and director of the WFU Angell Center for Entrepreneurship.

Videos, blogs and a photo gallery of the event can be found on