6 Critical Tips to Winning Student Case Competitions

Posted September 7, 2020 by Joshua neubert

As student competitions proliferate the education space at all levels, the case competition has become a mainstay not only of business school, but of many university and even high school experiences. However, many students, and especially their educators and professors, are not fully versed in how case competitions work, let alone how to best prepare for them.

Case competitions offer students the opportunity to help solve real-world business problems – often posed by companies facing that exact challenge. These competitions have become a rite of passage for many students interested in business, finance, or economics degrees – not to mention the plethora of startup and entrepreneurial themed competitions as well. One of the great benefits of these competitions is that in addition to all of the recognition and bonus points students get for participating, they tend to pay generously for the top ideas!

While there is no single standard set of slides or presentation points that will make your submission to a case competition the top award winner, there are a number tips that can help you create presentations and documents that stand out from the crowd.

At the Institute of Competition Sciences, we’ve studied more than a hundred case competitions and startup competitions for high school students, college undergraduates, and graduates alike. We’ve been involved in managing competitions giving away more than $9,000,000 in awards. Here are our favorite recommendations on how to make an impact in your next student case competition.

  1. Do your research.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking you know it all. Talking with people who are involved with the problem at hand is important. Rather than just researching online, make sure to get out and talk to real-people about the problem. Your ideas should be informed by robust research that also includes conversations with people who are living the problem and could be direct beneficiaries of your solution.

  1. Keep it laser-focused.

When solving a case competition there are often many ways to explore potential solutions. Chasing every idea can easily lead to scope-creep in your project and tends to not only waste your time, but make your final submission less clear. After an initial round of ideation, select one solution you think is most compelling and focus, focus, focus. Tell the judges why you chose this solution and build out a robust case for how it works, why it works, and why it is the best. Don’t worry about having a solution that is broad enough to fit every possible eventuality of the case, depth is better. Your judges will be more impressed by a single, deep and well-studied solution than a set of broad and shallow ones

  1. Looks Matter.

In many competitions, we’re often tempted to focus just on the content of our presentation and materials. We want to get the information down just right so the judges know exactly how extensive our work has been. Unfortunately, there are unconscious biases in all of us that mean the first thing the judges will evaluate your work on is not its content, but rather its look. An aesthetically compelling presentation is worth just as much, if not more than having all of your content exactly right. Straightforward, crisp, clear slides with simple design elements go a long way. Don’t be afraid use illustrations and vivid imagery when they can help tell a point you’re making.

  1. Know the Numbers.

Most case competitions and student startup challenges provide the judges with some question and answer time. This is where you will typically hear question after question about your numbers. When you can crank out specific statistics and quantified analyses that you have conducted or discovered through your research, the judges will be quickly impressed. While only key numbers should be presented in your slides, an appendix is a helpful add-on that will be valuable during the Q&A. Also, make sure you practice speaking confidently about all of your figures and statistics. Knowing how you arrived at those numbers is just as important as knowing what the numbers are.

  1. Respond to the Prompt.

Ultimately, for any case competition, there will be a problem or challenge that you are responding to. Judges want solutions that feel tangible and actionable for this challenge. They want solutions that are within a budget that they could get excited about and promote to their own stakeholders. You must create a clear plan for launching and executing your idea. What money will you need? What existing resources can you draw on? Can you highlight a roadmap for how your solution could evolve as it scales? Far too often, very good teams lose sight of the prompt they are meant to respond to and come up with amazing solutions, but they just don’t hit the mark with that specific case competition.

  1. Be a storyteller.

All the numbers and graphs might seem impressive to you, but it’s far too easy for your judging panel to get glazed over eyes and miss the wonderful points you’ve put together with all of those facts and figures. They could simply miss the genius of your solution if you don’t tell a good story. The science is clear on how to capture an audience – tell a great story. Sharing emotional and personal information that relates to the information you have put together will bring your light up the attention centers of your judges’ brains. Demonstrate how your solution will transform the lives of customers and stakeholders through real-world examples. Don’t miss the opportunity to make sure your judges are actually paying attention to all the work you’ve done by not giving them something engaging and exciting to listen to. If you don’t have a way to capture their attention, no amount of facts and figures will save your solution and shot at winning the competition.


As case competitions, innovation challenges, startup competitions, and other student contests proliferate throughout high school college, and graduate programs it is becoming increasingly difficult to stay on top of all of the opportunities available. How do you know what programs are best for you to participate in? The Institute of Competition Sciences database makes it easy. Find and follow the competitions that are most interesting to you. Track their deadlines and milestones on your ICS account.

Make sure to upgrade to a premium account to take advantage of all the ICS resources to be prepared for your next competitions! Premium discounts are currently running, but won’t last long!