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A team of four second year Chicago Booth MBA students won the top prize of $20,000 at the NAPE/ TCU Energy Innovation Case Competition, building on a passion for the energy sector and skills in finance, strategy, and consulting. 

This was the first time that a Booth team participated in the competition. “It was a fantastic learning and growth opportunity,” said Zoey Wang, the team leader. “The energy sector is exciting because it is always evolving.”

The NAPE/ TCU competition required teams to develop recommendations on whether publicly traded US oil and gas companies should prioritize energy transition projects or double down on legacy businesses. Teams who made it to the second round were invited to compete in Houston. Prior to the finals, teams were given a few hours to consider the impact of excessive price volatility on their recommendations. 

The Booth team, composed of Wang, Albert Cao, Max McDonnell, and Prabhat Shrestha, differentiated itself by emphasizing that there was no one size fits all solution for energy companies, drawing a distinction between pure-play exploration and production companies, and major integrated oil and gas companies.

Their final presentation offered two sets of recommendations, noting that factors such as the declining demand for petroleum, the increasing demand for electricity, the ability to access capital, and investment horizons, would all have different implications depending on the kind of company. The recommendations looked at short term and long term strategies in terms of plausibility, feasibility, and the financial needs for the companies. 

Wang credits the multifaceted approach to the team’s diverse backgrounds and the ability to work well together. The team, which came together shortly before the competition, had backgrounds in energy, finance, infrastructure, consulting, and the military. “We contributed equally,” she said. “It was the perfect combination.”

McDonnell also participated in the Smeal MBA Sustainability Competition at Penn State. The Booth team, composed of Anna Jacobs, Arjun Bharadwaj, Bryan Richman, McDonnell, and Thao Le, finished in third place at Smeal. Looking back at the experience, McDonnell said the teams were able to draw on a variety of resources at Booth - lessons in the classroom, reaching out to professors for feedback, and financial support, including from the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation.

The Smeal competition focused on the use of carbon offsets. As they prepared, the team consulted with Booth professors including Robert Topel,  Chris Wheat, Christian Leuz, and Caroline Grossman, ’03. For Wang, the Energy Policy Practicum course created a great foundation to understand the global landscape for energy demand, emissions, and strategies to pivot away from carbon intensive technologies. 

Both students encourage Booth students to enter energy competitions in the future. “It was an opportunity to explore areas that I did not know much about but was interested in,” said McDonnell. “Don’t sell yourself short. There are lots of resources including classmates and professors who were helpful.”

Wang, who is co-chair of the Booth Energy Club, looks at the competitions as a great way to keep up to date with a rapidly changing world. “When you participate in energy case competitions, you learn about new perspectives, you see new projections, you hear about new technologies that will transform the future of energy,” she said. “It’s very eye-opening.”

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