A team of four graduate students from the masters in real estate program at the Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies won first place in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s 2016 Real Estate Case Competition, the CASE, in Miami, Florida on February 25.
While MIT has held the annual CASE competition since 2008, students from the Georgetown masters in real estate program have only participated in the competition for the past four years and won first place in the 2014 MIT CASE competition. Georgetown permits only one team from the campus masters in real estate program and one team from the online masters in real estate program to participate each year.
Each of the 31 competing teams, comprised of no more than four students from top Real Estate masters programs around the world, were assigned a specific site for which they generated an original development proposal in a five-day period. The teams, which were not permitted to use outside help from faculty, submitted proposals that included the bid price and development program for the site, the capital structure of the development venture and a financial model. This year, teams were assigned a nine-hectare site on Dodge Island in Miami, an artificial island owned by the Port of Miami. The competition also collaborated with the National Association of Real Estate Investment Managers, giving participants the opportunity to speak with executives of the top real estate investment funds and firms in the country.
Twelve teams were selected to present a 15-page PowerPoint presentation at the Case Competition semifinals in Boston, Mass. on February 11 and three teams, including the Georgetown team, were selected to move on to the finals in Miami. Proposals constructed in the five-day period preceding the semifinals and finals were not changed at any stage of the competition.
The Georgetown team, comprised of Jerry Ricciardi (GRD ’16), Amanda Young (GRD ’15), Connor Bell (GRD ’16) and Azjargal Bartlett (GRD ’16), was recognized for the practicality, boldness and creativity of their development venture, as well as for their impressive teamwork skills.
According to Ricciardi, who decided to go back to school after starting his career in real estate ten years ago, the team’s success stemmed from their ability to create a complete experience in their development proposal for Dodge Island and from their commitment to a strategic approach.
“We put together a 2.4 million square foot, mixed-use development in a matter of five days that included hotels, offices and residential and retail. We created a whole experience in five days and we were able to sell that experience to the judges,” Ricciardi said. “We had a strategy at the beginning and we held to that strategy.”
In addition to their vision for the nine-hectare space, Bell, who took advantage of the Georgetown Masters in Real Estate program to switch his career from tech recruiting to real estate, said the team had unique components in their proposal that set them apart from the other teams.
“What set us apart from the others is that we had two unique features in our project. We utilized EB-5 financing but we also came up with a theme by bringing in Universal Studios and Comcast in as our partners in the project. I think those two things plus how well we worked together is what set us apart substantially from the other teams,” Bell said.
Bell said he wanted to compete in the CASE competition because of its rigor and reputation.
“The real estate case competition is arguably the most prestigious real estate case competition in the country,” Bell said. “For me individually, it was that prestige and how we were setting ourselves up against the toughest competition and testing our skills. You have the top minds of our generation, I’d say.”
While most of the team decided to participate in the CASE Competition after starting their masters program at Georgetown, Bartlett said that he decided to attend Georgetown because of its past success with the CASE Competition.
According to Ricciardi, the time constraints imposed on the participants to create a proposal sets the CASE competition apart from other Real Estate competitions, which usually give participants up to a semester to generate a proposal.
“What attracted me to this [competition] as opposed to other competitions is the time frame … It was great to bang this out in five days as opposed to these other competitions that could take a week, a month or an entire semester. All of those just lead to procrastination,” Ricciardi said.
The team’s success in the competition stemmed from the specific skillset that each member of the team offered. Ricciardi said the combination of each of their specialties ultimately allowed them to be successful in the finals in Miami.
“What I like about it is that you are really relying on your teammates expertise to get through the competition. We all have expertise in certain areas,” Ricciardi said.
According to Bell, each member of the team specialized in a different aspect of real estate and together, and the team was able to utilize each member’s specific knowledge to win the competition.
“For me personally, I am a financial analyst, so I was in charge of creating the model and running the assumptions that Amanda Young had gathered. Amanda was in charge of running all the market data … Azjargal was more of a design focus so she was in charge of sketching what the project would look like. Jerry was the master of zoning, construction schedules and all things development,” Bell said.
Bell also said the competition served as an incredible growing experience for every member of the team, especially in terms of confidence.
“It was wild to watch the transformation in such a short period of time in the level of confidence. I think you’ll see that with all of us,” Bell said.
Each team was assessed by a panel of seven judges, all of whom are prominent leaders in the real estate industry. Among others, judges included the Managing Editor of Goldman Sachs, Jeff Barclay, the Chief Operating Officer of Bentall Kennedy, Amy Price and the Chief Executive Officer and President of Skanska USA Commercial Development, Shawn Hurley. Each team was judged on the financial feasibility and practicality of their proposal, as well as the quality of their presentation.
According to Ricciardi, the team’s perfect execution of their presentation at the finals and semifinals helped them to progress ahead of other teams.
“When we presented, we were so well-versed. We rehearsed it many, many times that we were so in sync with each other that we came across like one person and presented it so smoothly. We got many compliments just on the presentation itself and how well versed we were,” Ricciardi said.
Both Ricciardi and Bell cited their education and support from Georgetown as crucial in helping them win the competition.
“We were all very appreciative of the support we got from the Georgetown community … Without that support behind us, we wouldn’t have been able to do what we did,” Ricciardi said.
According to Bell, the real-world aspect Georgetown professors bring the classroom gave the team the necessary background and skills to succeed in the MIT CASE competition.
“The fact that our professors are practitioners brings a true real-world element to the classroom. You get real-world training and experience in the classroom which I think is priceless,” Bell said.
Young, who was interested in participating in the competition because of the successful experiences of real estate graduate students in the past, said the competition served as an important learning experience.
“I learned a lot from my teammates, gained great experience working under tight deadlines, and got to present our project to a room of executives,” she said.