Past Cohorts


Carnegie Mellon University - Tepper School of Business

Dartmouth College - Tuck School of Business

Duke University - Fuqua School of Business

Georgetown University - McDonough School of Business

NYU - Stern School of Business

UC Berkeley - Haas School of Business

UCLA - Anderson School of Management

University at Albany, SUNY- School of Business

University of Texas at Austin - McCombs School of Business

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business

University of Washington - Bothell School of Business

University of Washington - Foster School of Business

Vanderbilt University - Owen Graduate School of Management

Yale - School of Management


Arizona State University - W.P. Carey School of Business

Claremont Graduate University - Drucker School of Management

Emory University - Goizueta Business School

Harvard Business School

MIT Sloan School of Management

Northwestern University - Kellogg School of Management

Stanford University  - Graduate School of Business

Strayer University - Jack Welch Management Institute

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business

University of Cincinnati - Linder College of Business

USC - Marshall School of Business

Why take part in the Small Business School Challenge?

  • Use your education to make a positive impact on a real business client in need.
  • Expand your knowledge of the small business arena by taking advantage of the curriculum and mentors within the SBSC.
  • Have your case study published in our public database.
  • Test your consulting skills against the best and the brightest from across the country and compete for the prize and acclaim.
  • Showcase your skills and network with top companies looking to hire business talent.

What's the Process?

As an MBA student, you'll be following an approach for creative problem solving grounded in design thinking. It entails deeply understanding the stakeholders involved, then creating as many ideas as possible no matter how crazy they may seem, before narrowing the set of ideas down to one which is fleshed out and made feasible. 

The final deliverable for each MBA team is to deliver a presentation up to 3.5 minutes in length for your client in the Saturday afternoon School Final. These videos will be recorded and made public so that your ideas might continue to help SMBs across the country long after the event has concluded.

These three stages loosely correspond to the three days of our program:



The challenge kicks off in the evening with a message from our founders and overview of the 48 hours.

Immediately after the kickoff, MBA teams will review the basic info survey completed by their client and hold a discovery session to uncover any additional information they need.

The focus should be on understanding the problems - both from the client’s perspective and the perspective of their customers.



Time to get creative! Workshops will focus on design thinking and ideation.

Then, MBA students generate ideas to solve the problems captured. During this phase, no idea is a bad idea;  so get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Some of the best solutions appear crazy at first. 

Additional time with your client to brainstorm may be valuable today, as well as booking time with a mentor.

The focus is on generating as many ideas as possible.



On this action-packed day, each team rigorously prioritizes ideas to quickly settle on what they believe to be their best. They determine how to measure and analyze potential positive impact.

They design a basic implementation plan and assess the associated risks, before compiling all of this work into their presentation.

This is the last chance for workshops on story-telling and measuring impact, and for accessing a mentor to refine your strategy and presentation.



School round judging will take place Saturday afternoon.

First place teams will advance to the National Finals Saturday evening, and final judging will be awarded at the end of the live event.

Everyone is invited to attend to hear the keynote speaker and see the winning innovative solutions as well as live awarding of national prizes.

How are teams judged?

You will be judged on Impact (50%), Communication (20%), Client Evaluation (20%), and Side Quests (10% in School Final) or Q+A (10% in Grand Final) .

First place School WInners will advance to the National Final Saturday evening. 

The top 3 places at the school level will be awarded cash prizes to their business clients to help implement the strategies identified. Top 3 places at the national level will also be awarded cash prizes for their business clients, as well as a pool of money distributed to the other business owners from their respective schools. 


Who is qualified to participate in the SBS Challenge?

MBA students currently enrolled in business programs at participating universities in the United States.

Can I participate if my school is not involved?

If your school is not formally taking part, you may request to be place on an at-large substitute list should any openings become available to complete teams. Also, you may put us in contact with someone in your school so we can see if they’d like to participate.
Due to the structure of the competition, we cannot guarantee a spot in the challenge if your school is not involved.


What is expected of our MBA participants?

The theme for the SBSC-II is emerging from the crisis with confidence. Each team of three MBA students will be aiming to have as much positive impact for their clients with this theme in mind. They are tasked to develop an innovative approach for how their Small Business Client may achieve business sustainability and success over the next 12 months and beyond.

You will be introduced to your business client the day of kickoff and should plan to spend the next 48 hours working with your MBA team, attending workshops, and engaging with mentors during their office hours in support of your recommended strategies for your client.

How much time do I need to commit?

You should plan to dedicate most of your time during the 48 hour challenge to your team from kickoff through final presentations to meet with your business client, receive advice from your mentors, and formulate a strategy and presentation of your case. Kickoff and school presentations are mandatory, and how you structure your time between those events is up to you.


What type of businesses are accepted as clients in the SBSC?

Eligible small to medium sized businesses are in the USA, in any industry, and have 3-30 employees. No equity funding or plans for equity funding (a.k.a. no startups.)

Preference is given to businesses local to the participating schools, but the Challenge is open to any business in the USA.

Students can recommend a small business in their area to be considered for participation.

What prizes are awarded?

Cash prizes are awarded to the business clients of the winning teams:  first, second and third places at the school level, and first, second and third places at the national level.

The winning schools represented at the national level will share a split cash prize pool among all other businesses served by teams from that school.


"I've always had an interest in starting a business one day, and this was a great view into that world. Aside from insights that I may potentially use in the future, I think all the workshops gave me new frameworks that I will use as a product manager and beyond."

Caroline van der Merwe
MBA Student
Yale - School of Management

Caroline van der Merwe

"This really broadened my knowledge and awareness of how other industries (specifically art) work. I loved being able to jump into an area I was entirely unfamiliar with and deliver business advice and recommendations."

Molly Joyce
MBA Student
NYU - Stern School of Business

Molly Joyce

"I've always had an interest in starting a business one day, and this was a great view into that world. Aside from insights that I may potentially use in the future, I think all the workshops gave me new frameworks that I will use as a product manager and beyond."

Alex Leung
MBA Student
University of Washington- Foster School of Business

Alex Leung