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On November 17, three teams of VCU School of Business students went head-to-head in the final round of the 2022 VCU Analytics Challenge, hosted by the departments of Supply Chain and Analytics and Information Systems and sponsored by Altria. 

The challenge asks undergraduate students to consider a real-world business problem and, after analyzing an accompanying data set and conducting their own research, make recommendations for how to best solve for the problem being presented. The top three student teams take home prize money to the tune of $5,000 (1st place), $3,000 (2nd place) and $2,000 (3rd place).

“It’s been two years since we last hosted this analytics challenge, and we’re excited to bring it back in 2022,” said Stephen Custer, assistant professor, Supply Chain Management and Analytics. “All students who participate are getting great experience analyzing data, and the teams here today are getting experience presenting their findings and recommendations to leadership in a corporate setting.”

Custer collaborated with 2018 Decision Analytics graduate Anthony Phelps, now manager of advanced analytics at Altria, to relaunch the student competition.

“We saw more than 200 students participate in this challenge,” said Phelps. “As a VCU Decision Analytics graduate, I am grateful for everything my degree has done for me so far and happy to be able to help bring programs like this to VCU students today.”

VCU students participating in the competition were given five years of Small, Women and Minority-owned Business (SWaM) information from the Commonwealth of Virginia. Since 2014, the Commonwealth of Virginia has had a goal that 42% of purchases would be from SWaM vendors. Students were asked to select an agency or a SWaM vendor and analyze data to provide recommendations to increase purchases from SWaM vendors. From the agency perspective, the aim was diversification — additional purchases from SWaM vendors. From the SWaM vendor perspective, the aim was incrementality — additional sales to agencies.

Teams began working on the challenge in August 2022 and submitted their first reports in September. A team of first round judges made up of VCU professors and Altria employees reviewed each report and selected the final three teams to present their work at Altria headquarters in Richmond. 

The final round judges consisted of Naomi Boyd Ph.D., dean of the VCU School of Business; Suresh Subramanian, vice president of advanced analytics at Altria; and Sarah Gravitt-Baese, chief marketing officer at Feed More. A number of other Altria executives were also in attendance for the final presentations, including recruiter Michelle Williamson.

“This is why VCU is so different and so exciting,” said Boyd. “We have these incredible partners like Altria and opportunities for students to showcase their talents. You all may not know it now, but when you graduate and enter the working world, this experience is going to be a differentiator for you. This is going to help launch your career and provide you with perspectives that you wouldn’t have otherwise.”

The students of Team 28 were Philip Daire, Christian Dubois, Shekinah Otuonye-Otis and John Williams. They recommended the creation of a SWaM Recruitment Task Force to help increase the number of SWaM vendors available. The team also did a deep dive into construction purchases — a top purchasing category across the Commonwealth.

Team 55 consisted of Tyler Edge, Sean Mason, Ethan Terzic and Brooke Pennington. Their team too honed in on certain purchasing categories — construction, technology, general academic items such as textbooks — but specifically looked at George Mason University as a case study.

Team 16 focused their attention entirely on the University of Virginia, making a series of recommendations — such as unbundling state contracts and examining the seasonality of purchases — that they suggest combining in order for UVa to achieve the goal of 42% SWaM utilization. Raigan Booker, Maya Chwairy, Comisha Pettaway and Cecilia Taylor of Team 16 were named winners of the challenge and the $5,000 prize.

Team 28 was awarded the second place prize and Team 55 was awarded the third place prize.

“This has been a great event,” said Custer. “We’ve done a number of projects with Altria and will continue to do projects with them in the future. We’re very fortunate to have a lot of really strong industry partners to work with here in Richmond.”

For more information about VCU Business, visit the School of Business website


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