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Shark Tank investor and CEO of FUBU Daymond John was the VIP guest.

Credit: Sukhmani Kaur

Wharton’s Baker Retailing Center hosted its first Ideathon, a 24-hour challenge where Penn students pitched ideas to Ralph Lauren to solve business challenges, featuring VIP guest 'Shark Tank' investor and CEO of FUBU Daymond John.

The Ideathon took place at the Sheraton Philadelphia University City Hotel from 3 p.m. on Friday until 3 p.m. on Saturday, open to any undergraduate and graduate Penn student. Ralph Lauren presented three challenges titled personalization, retail experience and technology, and mobile to approximately 16 teams of five students. The groups then had 24 hours to come up with a three-minute pitch for one of the three challenges, after which five representatives from Ralph Lauren deliberated to choose the best pitch from each category. The three winning teams each received $10,000.

Before students presented their pitches at the end of the event, John spoke to attendees about how he created his global apparel company as a teenager playing with hats in his mother’s basement. 

“I would go work at Red Lobster for five years while I did FUBU at night and I would sleep four hours a night,” John said. “The business called me back. If you’re going to be an entrepreneur, take affordable steps, fail fast, and fail small.”

Credit: Sukhmani Kaur

John said how he worked at Red Lobster for five years while growing FUBU at night.

The Baker Retailing Center is an interdisciplinary industry research center established in 2002. Its mission is to be a global leader in retail knowledge by facilitating research and sponsoring global outreach initiatives for students.

Mina Fader, managing director of the Baker Retailing Center, said she thought of the Ideathon six months ago because she wanted to give students an experience similar to a hackathon, an event where coders collaborate on software projects, but with a business focus. She added that she was excited for students to learn more about current issues affecting the retailing industry.

“It really gives the industry an opportunity to see students in a very different light than just a standard interview,” Fader said. “There are so many other students here who don’t code, and I’d love for them to be able to have the same kind of opportunity.”

The Baker Retailing Center partnered with Rethink Connect, a global hub through which industry agents and entrepreneurs can connect, to identify Ralph Lauren as the company that would present the Ideathon. According to Fader, they wanted to choose a company that people knew and respected.

Molly MacDougall, vice president of Digital Technology for Ralph Lauren, said she was excited to see how the student pitches could help improve the company.

“We were really looking at challenges that we face that are top of mind in our day-to-day as part of our jobs with the company,” MacDougall said. “Personalization, mobile, and retail technologies are regular conversations and areas of focus and investment for our company.”

Credit: Sukhmani Kaur

The Ideathon let Penn students pitch ideas to Ralph Lauren to improve business practices.

Rima Reddy, first-year Wharton MBA student who was part of the team that won the retail experience and technology challenge, said that she loved working with her team and was impressed by the teams' creativity and unique ideas. The team's winning idea featured using QR codes on clothing tags which would take customers to Ralph Lauren's social media.

"All of the other teams that were presenting in our group had really good ideas so when we won it was definitely really shocking and exciting," Reddy said.

Jonathan Muruako, a second-year in the MPH/Masters in Bioethics dual degree program, was part of the team that won the personalization challenge. The five-member team created Polo Family, a feature for Ralph Lauren’s website where customers can interact with friends and relatives to provide feedback on virtual outfits and make wishlists for themselves.

Muruako said that even though he didn’t originally know anyone in his group, he is proud of the way they were able to collaborate to create a winning product.

“A group of strangers can come together to make something great in less than 24 hours,” Muruako said. 

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