Notre Dame MBA and Coca-Cola announce winner of virtual case competition

Author: Carol Elliott


In the wake of catastrophic natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, the Tohoku earthquake in Japan and the typhoon striking the Philippines, the survivors quickly face a very urgent need: safe drinking water.

Often, the sources of clean water are destroyed, along with the technology, energy and transportation systems needed to bring in fresh supplies. How do you deploy water purification technology anywhere in the world within days or even hours of a disaster?

This was the business problem posed by the University of Notre Dame MBA at the Mendoza College of Business and The Coca-Cola Company as part of a virtual case competition called the Notre Dame MBA Mini Deep-Dive Challenge. Launched in September, the annual contest recently awarded prizes to the top three proposals submitted by 665 registrants.

Jonathan Lee of Mishawaka, Ind., submitted the winning proposal, and earned himself a trip to work with Coca-Cola’s Sustainability team on a water purification project in a developing country. Lee also wins a $25,000 fellowship if he successfully matriculates into the Notre Dame MBA program.

“I am extremely excited and sincerely grateful to work with The Coca-Cola Company on this project,” said Lee, who earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial design and pre-professional studies from Notre Dame in 2010. “The thing I’m most excited about is the ability to experience a world beyond the one I live in. Everyone dreams about changing the world, but very few actually get to experience it. This experience will give me a better understanding of what we can do to truly make the world better.”

The Notre Dame MBA Deep Dive is always a great contest because it gives those who are interested in our MBA program a glimpse of the kind of innovative case work we do,” said Mary Goss, Notre Dame MBA senior director. “We appreciate Coca-Cola’s enthusiasm and willingness to take the contest to the next level by offering the opportunity to actually work on a project in the field with their team. That could be a life-changing experience for our winner.”

The online contest specifically asked entrants to submit a one-page proposal for helping Coca-Cola implement EKOCENTER in disaster relief situations. EKOCENTER is an off-the-grid, modularly designed kiosk that delivers safe drinking water, wireless communication, power and other functionality to jump start community development. Coca-Cola is partnering with governments, other businesses and members of the civil sector to deliver EKOCENTER to rural communities in underserved, hard-to-reach parts of the world.

EKOCENTER utilizes the Slingshot purification system – a technology developed by DEKA R&D. Slingshots utilize vapor compression distillation (VCD) technology to turn any source of dirty water into safe drinking water. Each machine delivers about 200 gallons of safe drinking water per day at the electricity cost of less than a hair dryer (1kWh). Coca-Cola is currently deploying systems in Africa and Latin America with plans to accelerate and expand global placements. When fully scaled, the project aims to deliver more than 500 million liters of safe drinking water to 500,000 people globally.

“Like the Mendoza College of Business, we believe business can help address human and societal concerns to advance the common good,” said Derk Hendriksen, general manager of Slingshot/EKOCENTER at The Coca-Cola Company. “As a Company, we see the future through three lenses—people, communities and the environment—and with the Deep Dive Challenge we were able to hear fresh, unique ideas on how to make a positive difference in all three. The quality of questions and dialogue leading up to the MBA submission was testimony to the tremendous pool of people and talent Notre Dame brings to the fore.”

In coming up with his proposal, Lee said he first focused on the logistical problem of getting EKOCENTERs to affected areas quickly.

“I had several ideas for this, but the one that made the most sense was having them already situated on a transportation vehicle ready to be moved to any location at any given time,” he said. “This made me think about Southwest’s business model of having hubs around the country that are within a 500-mile radius.

“Taking that same strategy, I chose 24 sites around the world that were positioned in target markets, were within a 500- to 1000-mile range of another Slingshot site and were in areas prone to natural disasters,” he added. “In the event of a natural disaster, the closest transportation vehicles would move toward the affected site and provide anywhere from 400 or more Slingshots or 350,000 liters of safe drinking water within 24 hours.”

The Coca-Cola judges noted that Lee’s plan showed an “excellent combination of understanding the problem, thinking creatively and building a concrete, doable plan including timeline. It is a very well presented plan that does an outstanding job of creating a concrete summary that is visually appealing, and packs a great deal of content.” 

Coca-Cola will work with Lee in deciding the location and timing of his trip to work on a global sustainability project with the team.

Second place was awarded to Michael Windle of Washington, D.C., while third place went to Kevin Kearney of Pittsburgh, Pa. Each won a variety of prizes from Coca-Cola’s EKOCYCLE line of clothing, all of which is made from recycled materials. The first 50 participants to enter the competition and submit plans also received McDonald’s Arch cards.

The Notre Dame MBA Mini Deep-Dive Challenge was inspired by Interterm Intensive, a signature component of the Notre Dame MBA curriculum. Each spring and fall, MBA students participate in intense four-day sessions involving real-world presentations and case competitions from some of the top Fortune 100 companies, including Whirlpool, GE, adidas and McDonald’s.

Previous Deep-Dive Challenges have included cases sponsored by Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Microsoft and Sprint.

The Notre Dame MBA at the Mendoza College of Business enrolls approximately 340 students annually in its one- and two-year programs. The program is designed to sharpen students’ analytical and problem-solving skills, enhance their leadership ability and increase emphasis on ethical decision-making. Students have the opportunity to study the complexities of global business through international immersions in Asia, Latin America and other locations.

The Notre Dame MBA is ranked 20th among U.S. business schools by Bloomberg Businessweek. The Mendoza College also is a member of the Forté Foundation, a consortium of major corporations and top business schools supporting women in business leadership roles.

Media Relations Contact:

Carol Elliott

Interim Director of Marketing Communications

Mendoza College of Business

University of Notre Dame

Phone: (574) 631-2627

Cell: (574) 360-1942