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Winners of the Big Data Visualization Contest Are Announced at NJIT's Innovation Day

Lou Eccleston, president of S&P Capital IQ, delivers the keynote speech at Innovation Day.

NJIT’s first annual Big Data Visualization Contest – a competition that immersed undergraduates in the world of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) and challenged them to use S&P Capital IQ’s cutting-edge research, analytics, and data visualization tools to make hypothetical pitches for high-stakes acquisition deals – concluded in a photo finish at Innovation Day this week with the winning team narrowly edging out close competitors.

The contest marked the first time that S&P Capital IQ, a business unit of McGraw Hill Financial, Inc., has incorporated the use of its desktop platform into a joint business and technology challenge for college students. The company’s president, Lou Eccleston, was the keynote speaker at Innovation Day, adding an exciting new dimension to the annual event.

Eccleston, who was introduced at the event by Robert Coppola, the CTO of S&P Capital IQ and vice chair of the advisory board for NJIT’s College of Computing Science, emphasized the importance of what he called a critical combination – “learning how to learn,” communications skills, and discipline – in maintaining the “sustained competitive innovation” necessary to prevail in today’s technology-rich global marketplace.

Eleven teams, with a total of 50 students, participated in the contest by making hypothetical pitches on which company Google should acquire next. The teams first presented at S&P Capital IQ's headquarters in early April, where they were judged by NJIT professors and S&P pros. Based on feedback they received, their pitches were improved and ultimately displayed on Innovation Day on posters.

Members of the winning team were Geoffrey Ching, a junior majoring in business and finance, James Barr, a senior majoring in finance and accounting, Orest Bidnyk, a senior majoring in accounting, Pedro Santos, a senior majoring in civil engineering, Rodolfo Marquez, a junior majoring in accounting and finance, and Grant Barr, a senior majoring in mathematics and finance. Geoffrey Ching, Rodolfo Marquez, and Pedro Santos are Albert Dorman Honors College scholars. The winners received iPad Air devices, while all participating students were evaluated for the opportunity to become an S&P Capital IQ intern.

“It was really exciting to compete in a finance competition and interesting to look at companies from a different perspective. Rather than analyzing a company itself and making a recommendation, we were asked to think as Google would and find a good acquisition for the company,” said Ching, of Middletown, whose team proposed the acquisition of Trulia, a real estate information firm, “as a company that had unique technologies that were the hardest for Google to imitate. We thought Trulia could provide a new search vertical for Google.”

He added, “The feedback we got during the preliminary presentations was really useful. There was a hole in our presentation – a missing piece of our argument – that we weren’t aware of. We knew our own thought process, but failed to convey it fully.”

Two other teams received honorable mentions for their acquisition proposals.

“It was really interesting to see how many ways the same problem could be approached, and just getting a shout-out for our plan was thrilling,” said Mary Schneider, a junior from Old Bridge majoring in business information systems, whose team won an honorable mention. “I transferred to NJIT this semester from Brookdale Community College and this was a great opportunity I wasn’t expecting. I learned a lot and was able to accomplish something in this new world.”

Michael Ehrlich, associate professor of finance at NJIT and one of the judges, said the presentations were indeed impressive.

“They wowed the judges – faculty, an M&A analyst, an angel investor, and business managers – and no one will be surprised when one or more of these companies show up as future Google deals,” Ehrlich said. “In an exemplary corporate/campus partnership with S&P Capital IQ, our students demonstrated how they can use cutting-edge business intelligence tools to solve real world corporate challenges.”

The students were in turn wowed by Eccleston, who spoke passionately about the need to be engaged thinkers, learners, and communicators rather than just technology experts, and described his own company as a “$1 billion start-up” that “had better be an incubator of innovation.” He took a number of questions from students following his talk.

Marek Rusinkiewicz, dean of the College of Computing Sciences, called the contest an example of “mutually beneficial interactions between NJIT College of Computing Sciences and our corporate affiliates and great opportunity for CCS students to learn about financial applications of computing, such as quantitative investing and algorithmic trading.”

“Having Lou Eccleston speak so frankly and engagingly to our students about the challenges of the global marketplace and the role of technology – and people – in driving innovation was a highlight of the day,” he added.