A new venture business competition provided Brooks Douglass, a sophomore economics and finance major from Grand Island, Nebraska, with the chance to shine in front of real-world business professionals. Participating in a first-time collaborative effort between Arbor Day Farm and the University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Business Honors Academy, Douglass discovered a new way to learn about business.
“This was the first time I've had real, hands-on learning experience working closely with mentors who are business professionals. In this case, we worked alongside Arbor Day Farm employees to help them achieve a goal to engage more people,” he explained.
As part of the collaboration, 17 Nebraska Business Honors Academy students formed teams and worked together with Arbor Day Farm to pitch an event or attraction to host at the farm to drive engagement with new audiences. Dan Lambe, president of the Arbor Day Foundation, witnessed the benefits of the partnership firsthand as he engaged with students throughout the six weeks of the competition.
“We can't think of every idea or solution ourselves, so we are constantly trying to find helpful, innovative thinking through partners and collaborators. This experience was a great way for us to engage with some of the best and brightest at the University of Nebraska to challenge us to be better and challenge them to think creatively about solutions for Arbor Day Farm and the Arbor Day Foundation,” said Lambe.
Douglass and his group members brainstormed a new, creative idea – a light festival called Brilliance hosted at the tree farm, where visitors from across the globe could see an illuminated forest, alongside other attractions. As good as they thought the idea was, they soon came across the challenge of how to present accurate pricing to the foundation members and leaders of the Arbor Day Farm. He and his team found the solution through research they conducted on Morton Arboretum, an internationally-recognized outdoor tree museum in Illinois.
“We asked ourselves, ‘How were we going to get price estimates or understand how we put on that kind of show rather than just have a bunch of little Christmas trees that you could see anywhere else?’ What we found out was places like the Morton Arboretum could give us the estimates we needed. Just reaching out to our project contacts at the Arboretum helped solve the problem,” he said.
Lambe served as one of the judges for the contest. While all teams impressed him and his peers, Douglass’ group shined just a bit brighter amongst the competitors.
“We were impressed with the thoughtfulness of each team. What the Brilliance team had that stood out was the ambition of their idea, the budgeting and rigor they put behind the actual business principles of the idea. They thought about utilizing some unique space we already have and the depth which they thought about it gave them an edge over other teams,” he said.
The competition allowed Douglass to consolidate what he learned in classes and use his knowledge in a real-world application. He noted the differences and advantages between this experiential learning project and a traditional classroom setting.
“I brought everything I’ve learned from my marketing, accounting and finance courses together and worked with professionals in the real world. The competition was more adapting than work in a classroom. Having those professionals’ insight passed onto us from their real-world experience versus our experience from a classroom, and meshing those together helped us make a better product than we could have without them,” said Douglass.
While Douglass and his team walked away with prizes for winning, Lambe found the true reward in the partnership itself.
“We should have been doing this for years. We are an organization working throughout the world on an international scale, working with some of the biggest corporate partners and government partners in the world. Nebraska is a leading educational institution with a tremendous record and reputation. The idea of us getting to work together to invent something new is really exciting, and we are absolutely committed to continuing to build this relationship,” Lambe proclaimed.
The winning team included:
Kate Alston, junior marketing major from Omaha, Nebraska
Cameron Claborn, junior supply chain management and analytics major from Omaha
Charles Erker, a junior finance and marketing major from Omaha