Opportunity Quest sees SFU MBAs deliver business ideas to Vancouver’s Heritage District

May 31, 2012

The winning team visiting one of the local businesses. From left to right: Pawel Herra, James Yang, Ashley Burgess, Rajlakshmi Mital and Mohammad Habbal

Students from the MBA program at Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business have been pounding the pavement in an effort to bolster business prospects in the Heritage District of downtown Vancouver during evenings and weekends – when thousands of area office workers have gone home. The district – the historic commerce and banking area of Vancouver’s West Hastings Street – is a dynamic area for retailing and includes some world-renowned brands in addition to numerous small- and medium-sized businesses. The emergence of the area has translated into an unprecedented opportunity for area development, marketing and promotion.

To this end, the first ever MBA Opportunity Quest saw SFU’s graduate students engaging with local businesses in the core West Hastings Street area in order to help local merchants create strategies to bring the area to life when the weekday traffic starts to dwindle.

The event was pioneered by Professor Eric Gedajlovic through a partnership with the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association (DVBIA). Before hitting the streets, the students were briefed by Gedajlovic and Ivy Fong, Member Services and Projects Officer, DVBIA, on the problems facing the area and what their expectations of the students were. The cohort of 52 students was split into 12 uniformed teams before being unleashed onto both West Hastings and Pender Street between Richards and Thurlow on the morning of May 23.

The teams were then given two hours to work on their presentations before presenting to the panel of judges, which included local businessmen Sherman Scott, Associate Vice President of Retail at Colliers, Brenda Pare, retail manager of the Harbour Centre, local entrepreneur Peter Raptis and Charles Gauthier, Executive Director of the DVBIA.

After much deliberation, the judges revealed their top three teams for the day, with the winner being the team who received the most so-called “Beedie Bucks” – hypothetical dollars which the judges could invest in their favorite teams. Beedie School of Business Dean Daniel Shapiro was on hand to present the top teams with specially-made gold, silver and bronze Beedie medals.

The winning team was announced as Team Brown, consisting of students Ashley Burgess, Mohammad Habbal, Pawel Herra, Rajlakshmi Mital and James Yang. They wowed the judges with their concept of transforming the area into Vancouver’s wedding district. Their vision would see West Hastings become a one-stop shopping area to cater for all things linked to the wedding industry.

The second place team on the day, Team Maroon, was made up of students Ari Hagisavas, Maya Krasteva, Arjun Maruthi, Sreejit Narayanan and Colin Stansfield. They impressed with their concept of a weekly gourmet food market in the area serving the finest local produce with entertainment from local performers.

Meanwhile, bronze medalists Julian Harrison, Michael Lam, Miranda Mandarino and Amanda Shou, known as Team Yellow, envisioned rebranding the area as “the Port District”. The rebranded area would pride itself on sustainability and sophistication, with luxury themed retailers situated throughout the area and green issues at the forefront of planning.

“I saw Opportunity Quest as a chance for our students to get out and engage with the business community, and to develop applicable ideas and solutions to problems facing our local business owners,” said Gedajlovic. “I was excited about the opportunity for our students to put what they have learned into practice and the judges were blown away by all the teams. They really listened to the problems facing these business owners and I am proud of the creative strategies they have come up with today.”

A common theme for many of the teams saw them focus on increasing awareness of the existing Heritage District branding, in addition to bringing in crowds with festivals and entertainment to be held in some of the park spaces in the area.

Some teams opted for a more radical approach, however. One notable example:  A proposal to turn the area into the entertainment district of Vancouver, with karaoke, screen golf and gaming areas.

“We wanted the students to tell us what it would take to make West Hastings Street more vibrant,” said Ivy Fong. “The quality and variety of recommendations the students presented has been impressive and is testament to the education they have received at SFU. They have certainly given us a lot to think about today and hopefully we will see some of their ideas put into practice in the future.”

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