MBA Case Competitions: Meet Boston University’s Master Case Coach

case competitions

Boston University students after competing in Questrom’s Sustainability Competition in November

Greg Stoller is one of the most open and engaging people you could ever meet—except when it comes to his secret cheat sheet to help prepare MBA students for case competitions. A senior lecturer at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business politely yet firmly says no when asked to share his guidelines for case competitions. 

Why? His fierce competitive instincts kick in. He doesn’t want anyone outside Questrom to know what advice he provides students to give them an edge in such contests. And Stoller is something of a case competition master. In little more than a year, he has coached 42 case competition teams, 21 of them at the graduate level and another 21 with undergraduate business students.

Evidence of his success is all over his office in the form of trophies and certificates. Only last week a Questrom team of five MBA students came back from the invitation-only global Kellogg Healthcare & Biotech Case Competition with an honorable mention. Earlier in January, a group of Questrom undergrad students was runners-up in the Kelley School of Business 12th annual National Diversity Case Competition. One of the biggest contests is the annual Venture Capital Investment Competition at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School that brings to campus more than 120 university and graduate school teams.


case competitions

Greg Stoller teaches entrepreneurship and coaches students for case competitions

Case competitions, of course, are a fixture of business school life. Though not a part of the official curriculum, contests that pit the smarts, analytical abilities, and presentation skills of MBA students abound all over the world. Most typically, student teams compete to create the best solution to a business case study, ultimately pitching their ideas to a panel of judges. The pressure at these events is palpable, with teams often staying up into the wee hours of the morning to perfect the ideal pitch. Almost all students who engage in the extracurricular sport come away saying it is one of the highlights of their MBA experience.

Besides the obvious bragging rights for a winning team, the contests are great for adding value to one’s resume, polishing a student’s collaborative skills and self-confidence, developing leadership capabilities, and even winning cash prizes. As Stoller sees it, case competitions are not only no-brainers; they are the ultimate integrative exercise that brings together the topics often taught in siloed ways: accounting, finance, strategy, marketing, and operations.

“Cases force students to synthesize material from different disciplines,” he says. “Second, you have to check your theoretical underpinning at the door. Judges are looking for real-life recommendations, not pie-in-the-sky theories. And third, case competitions require students to do real teamwork in a clocked environment. What wins are ideas that are the most practical for a company. It’s all about whether a company can find utility in the idea.”


For all those reasons, students who compete in these contests often get a leg up on employment opportunities. “It adds a unique talking point with a future employer,” says Stoller, “They provide differentiation because students can talk about how they used teamwork,  collaboration, and analysis to compete.”

Stoller is a force of nature, an entrepreneur-turned-teacher and mentor overflowing with passion and energy. Fluent or proficient in seven languages, he joined Questrom to lead the school’s entrepreneurial initiative in 2015 after spending 15 years teaching in night courses at rival Boston College. He finds his students “scrappy,  humble and hard-working.”

Stoller found himself in a dual role last fall: coaching a team of BU students while also hosting a new case competition with a lucrative $50,000 prize. The Questrom Sustainability Competition attracted 62 student teams from a dozen business schools. The winning team was from nearby Suffolk University, though Stoller’s home team made the finals in November. Reflective of Stoller’s take-charge nature, he sent and received 3,756 emails about the contest during the course of a semester.


The case centered around what locals call the “Allston Christmas”, the run-up to every Sept. 1, when off-campus students vacating apartments overflow neighborhood sidewalks with abandoned furniture and household items. It’s a veritable free bazaar for passers-by, but a burden on landfills, traffic, and garbage pickup costs. The competition asked student teams to come up with a reuse-and-recycle solution for Casella Waste Systems, a NASDAQ-listed company based in Vermont that collects, recycles, transfers and disposes of waste.

To widen the field, Questrom made the competition open to both business and non-business students as well as both graduate and undergraduate students. And to ensure against bias, Stoller kept the teams’ identities and schools under wraps. “I’ve done enough of these case competitions that when a team makes the final, the first thing the judges do—and I say please don’t do this, but they never listen to me—they go to LinkedIn and they start figuring out who’s competing and what schools they are coming from, which completely defeats the purpose,” says Stoller.

The judges’ final deliberations were live-streamed and recorded, with pedagogical purpose. Other contests cloister the judges, “almost like a jury is going to deliberate for a criminal trial,” Stoller said. Competitors “might be lucky enough to get a couple of sentences after the fact of what you did well and what you didn’t do well. But you really don’t understand what goes into it.” In contrast, he adds, Questrom’s finalists were able “to see what they did well and what they didn’t do well in real-time.”

Casella officials, who acted as judges, were so impressed with the three finalists’ ideas that the company pledged to be in touch with all three teams. That is the ultimate accolade for the value of a case competition and music to Stoller’s ears. But don’t ask him to spill his secrets for making a difference in a case competition.

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.