Last Saturday, the Goshen College business department sent a team of four students, Josh Stiffney, Niles Graber Miller, Karli Graybill and Luis Lopez, to compete at the annual Mennonite Economic Development Associates competition (MEDA). The results were not unexpected: Goshen College won the competition for the second year consecutively, and was named a finalist for the third year in a row. Previous competitions showed similar trends of success, and Goshen has both placed in and won the competition several times in the past.
Prairie Harvest, a local health foods store in Newton, Kansas, hosted the competition and challenged teams from six Mennonite schools to draft a business plan for improved economic development. According to Michelle Horning, professor of accounting, each team was given “a business plan, financial statements for the last two years, a description of business challenges, and specific priorities of the business owner. Each team had to analyze the business and create recommendations.” On Saturday, the team presented their case plan to a panel of judges, which included Prairie Harvest’s owners as well as MEDA staff, and the team proceeded to the finals, ultimately beating out the other finalist, Tabor College, for the competition’s first place.
The team attributes their success largely to a unique, real-world approach. “What gave us a competitive edge was we didn’t use as much book knowledge,” said Lopez. “We went to Maple City Market, and took that advice and applied it to Prairie Harvest … [It] was creative and relevant and tangible.” A large part of the team’s approach was to seek the advice of and collaborate with Maple City Market, a local health foods store in downtown Goshen similar to Prairie Harvest.
The team also maximized their individual gifts. Because of his experience with Menno Tea, for instance, Graber Miller used contacts with trade distributers to help Prairie Harvest improve distribution efficiency with their peppernut business. Lopez, on the other hand, had experience with marketing, and he proposed marketing modifications that would increase social-networking outlets to help reach a younger audience. Stiffney and Graybill have extensive accounting experience, which was another asset to the team.
Said Horning, “This competition does not allow for any faculty involvement so it is really a testament to the ability of the students. The GC team had exactly the right approach which was to get out of the classroom and learn from a real business.” Goshen’s hard work and creativity didn’t go unrecognized, and the college is honored by their success.