Teams from 12 highly ranked universities from all over the world put aside the disappointment of missing an international trip to a live event at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM). Instead, they put their energies into effectively collaborating online to produce the best solutions in the week-long RSM STAR Online Case Competition in late April. The annual event is usually hosted live, with teams travelling from all over the world to Rotterdam, but it was converted to an online event thanks to the work of an organising committee of bachelor students from the STAR study association at RSM, plus RSM’s Case Development Centre, and the continuous support of the case partners.

Coronavirus emergency measures around the world are accelerating the process of innovation alongside the process of digital transformation in business, and moving this competition online is a great example. But a sense of ceremony is always appreciated, and the Online Case Competition had its own livestreamed opening and closing ceremonies for the teams.

Each team of four undergraduates was selected by their home universities and received training from consultants and professors to prepare themselves for the competition in the months beforehand; during the competition they worked on two cases: a six-hour case from Royal Philips and a 24-hour case from Coca-Cola European Partners, JINC and VoorGoed – each team based in and working from a different part of the world.  They were:

  • Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen, China
  • Thammasat University in Bangkok, Thailand
  • Universidade do Porto - FEP School of Economics and Management, Portugal
  • Universitas Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta, Indonesia
  • University of St. Gallen, Switzerland
  • Corvinus University of Budapest, Hungary
  • University of Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand
  • Hong Kong University of Science and Technology in Clear Water Bay, Hong Kong
  • University of Belgrade, Serbia
  • Korea University Business School in Seoul, South Korea
  • Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences in Rotterdam
  • And the host university, Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University.

The teams presented their solutions to a jury of representatives from the case partners, academics, RSM, and experienced business practitioners with a range of perspectives. The students used video presentations, Q&A panels and a written executive summary to present their solutions to the two cases.

Cases for positive change

The theme of the whole competition was ‘a force for positive change’; aligning with RSM’s mission to be a force for positive change in the world, and the organising committee focused on incorporating the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in every step of each cases development; they considered how each case could enable the subject companies to be a force for positive change.

Six-hour case outcomes exceeded expectations

SDG 9 Industry, innovation, and infrastructure, and SDG 3 Good health and well-being featured highly in the six-hour case focusing on Royal Philips, a company focused on innovation and healthcare. The case examined co-creation, a form of innovation that welcomes customer input. The world as our lab: How to innovate with customers and markets explored how this leading health technology company could undergo a transformative shift from selling products with a traditional in-house linear model of innovation to selling solutions arising from partnerships with customers; at Royal Philips, innovation increasingly comes from the outside in. This case addressed the innovations needed to improve the quality of people’s lives through meaningful innovation.

Royal Philips indicated that the case competition provided insights that exceeded their expectations; and revealed that students’ insights from the competition could help Royal Philips in its transition.

Winner of the six-hour case was the team of students from the Corvinus University of Budapest: Anna Teréz Hári, Attila Légrádi, Levente Neszt and Zoltán Máté Rádai with their faculty advisor Bence László Pistrui. Their trophy was sent over to Budapest. The winning team provided an analysis of healthcare and its ecosystem and identified two bottlenecks; in data sharing and in knowledge sharing. The team saw Royal Philips as the owner of an information and data platform, and as a facilitator that could connect various parties. The team devised routes that Royal Philips could use to change its linear model of innovation to a more cyclical model and presented concrete proposals for implementing the knowledge-sharing platform.

The team of students from the University of Belgrade in Serbia were runners up, and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology was placed third.

24-hour case more relevant than ever

The most intense effort came with the 24-hour case on the subject of inequalities. The trophy was sent to the team from the University of St. Gallen: Julien Schaer, Angela Li, Tina Gladden, Kiet Bui and faculty advisor Simon Pfister. Teams were challenged to extend their established thinking and to explore unfamiliar solutions – the case was based in Rotterdam, a city most of them had never visited. They were asked to develop a multi-stakeholder approach to tackle the root cause of inequality in Rotterdam while remaining aligned with the mission and capabilities of the three main partner organisations involved; JINC Rotterdam, VoorGoed and Coca-Cola European Partners. The St. Gallen team opted for a two-pillar approach that combined skills training and social entrepreneurship projects with the overarching aim of improving the education and employment prospects of low-income communities.

Runner-up was the team from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and third place went to Korea University Business School.

After the 24-hour case, Hans van Bochove of Coca-Cola European Partners said it was a pleasure to work with the students on a case that will be more relevant than ever because of the impact of Covid-19 on the collective socio-economic future. “It was interesting to see that each of the three finalists chose a different scope for their solution. The team from South Korea chose a more comprehensive approach, looking at poverty not just from an economic and educational perspective, but also from a psychological perspective. The team from Hong Kong took a deep approach, focusing on education as the key to success and then following up with longer-term career counselling. The team from St. Gallen took a somewhat broader approach by also focusing on education, but equally at stimulating social entrepreneurship as a parallel track.

“The three cases rivalled each other in quality and as all approaches were valid solutions, the Jury introduced two additional selection criteria to make their choice. We looked at the extent to which a solution could almost be instantly implemented and would be relatively affordable. And this ultimately led us to choose the solution of the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland to be the winner.”

Organising online

The RSM STAR organising committee said: “There were several reasons for not giving up on the Case Competition due to the Covid-19 crisis. First, participating teams had trained for months to tackle these challenging business cases and to compete with fellow universities. Furthermore, we believe it is essential to continue personal development and push innovation, even in these trying times.”

RSM and STAR organise the competition every year to bridge theory and practice, and to provide an opportunity for personal development as well as enjoying the challenge of solving unique business cases.

Quality outcomes

Jeroen Gruben from Royal Philips said participation as a case partner was a very worthwhile and enjoyable experience, and complimented the organising committee of turning the competition into an online event in just a matter of weeks, without compromising the experience or the learning opportunities for participants – or the quality of the outcomes.

“It is great to see the newest generation of brightest academic minds take on the challenges in healthcare today and match them with innovative ideas and suggestions in just a matter of a few hours. It makes you wonder what great solutions they would come up with if we would give them a month!”

Important to foster ‘outside in’ perspectives

Jeroen Gruben continues: “When it comes to market-driven innovation, it is so important that we foster ‘outside in’ perspectives, seek fresh ideas, and collect unbiased opinions to continuously calibrate and gauge all the internal knowledge and beliefs we have as a company.

“The fact that we had university teams participate from all over the world makes that we now have a globally applicable set of ideas and suggestions on how to increase our innovation with markets and customers.

“All these participating students are future leaders that will bring healthcare to the next level by accelerating new technologies and new ways of doing things, far beyond what we can think of today. Digitalisation for this generation of students simply goes without saying.

“We will carefully collect and analyse all the ideas, suggestions and concrete solutions that the teams have presented to us. This competition will for sure inspire and help us to take big steps forward.”

Achieving more

Arjanne Hoogstad of Coca-Cola European Partners said: “It was educational and inspiring to be involved in the RSM STAR Case Competition again. Coca-Cola European Partners has ambitious sustainability goals and we involve as many partners in the chain and other stakeholders as possible.  By working together, entering into a dialogue and joining forces, you ultimately achieve more. And sustainability is a theme that binds us all.

“We like to work with students to share our knowledge, but also for inspiration and innovative ideas for our issues. It was impressive how STAR organised the competition online in a short space of time, and inspiring to discuss this issue with students from all over the world.”

Jury members

  • Jeroen Gruben, Head of Europe Market Innovation & Customer Co-Creation at the Philips Innovation Hub in Eindhoven
  • Koray Karakaya, Innovation Lead at Philips Innovation Hub Eindhoven
  • Martijn Rademakers, Adjunct Professor of Corporate Strategy at Amsterdam Business School, University of Amsterdam
  • Rob van der Klei, Senior Vice President and Senior Client Executive at Marsh
  • Korstiaan van Wyngaarden, Medical Officer at Philips Innovation Hub in Eindhoven
  • Adri Meijdam, Executive Director at RSM
  • Hendrik Sijswerda, CRM, Senior Vice President and Head of Marsh Risk Consulting Netherlands at Marsh Risk Consulting
  • Eva Rood, Director positive change initiative at RSM and co-director of the Centre for Ecotransformation
  • Paul Thijssen Member of various supervisory boards
  • Hans van Bochove, Vice-President Public Affairs and Government Relations at Coca-Cola European Partners
  • Arjanne Hoogstad, Sustainability Manager at Coca-Cola European Partners
  • Sigrid Verweij, Director Public Affairs, Communications and Sustainability at Coca-Cola European Partners
  • Jonna Wiersema, Regional director Rotterdam at JINC
  • Michiel van Keulen, Real Estate and Financial Wealth at Voor Goed
  • Frederiek Verwest, Matchmaker at VoorGoed Agency
  • Marc van Nuland, Country Manager Netherlands & Chief Executive Officer Commercial Risk Solutions, Health Solutions & Affinity at Aon
  • Willem Koolhaas, Director of Corporate Marketing and Communications at RSM
  • Adeep Mann, Chairman of RSM’s MBA Case Society.


More information

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) is one of Europe’s top-ranked business schools. RSM provides ground-breaking research and education furthering excellence in all aspects of management and is based in the international port city of Rotterdam – a vital nexus of business, logistics and trade. RSM’s primary focus is on developing business leaders with international careers who can become a force for positive change by carrying their innovative mindset into a sustainable future. Our first-class range of bachelor, master, MBA, PhD and executive programmes encourage them to become critical, creative, caring and collaborative thinkers and doers.

For more information about RSM or this release, please contact Erika Harriford-McLaren, communications manager for RSM, on +31 10 408 2877 or by email at

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