Microsoft’s Firenze BXT is an annual innovation competition with multidisciplinary student teams from select top universities. As in the previous year, Cornellians stole the show with not just victories but also full-time job offers.
BXT in Firenze stands for Business, Experience (Design, Art) and Technology. While there are left-brain designers, right-brain engineers, and right-brain MBAs, the stereotypes for these disciplines are usually the opposite of those that lend themselves to deep challenges in generating the next idea that will transform the world.
The ideas raised at BXT target problems of significant strategic value and current focus to Microsoft. Through this competition, Microsoft encourages teams to explore key challenges, tackle problems, and learn together. Each discipline at BXT has its own methodologies, languages, taxonomies, and processes that are requisite for success. Much of the evaluation criteria at Firenze BXT is designed to encourage collaboration.
The Johnson High Tech Club hosted the initial screening rounds of the competition that was attended by over 50 Cornell students. A team-forming social that ran like a speed dating event kicked off the competition. This was followed by an innovation workshop hosted by Pradeep U.N., an executive producer at Microsoft.
Michael Dezube, ’12 (Operations Research and Information Engineering), Colin Budd, ’15 (Fine Arts & Info Sciences), Thao Ly Bui Tran, ‘12 (Management in Hospitality), and Yong Jiang, ’12 (Johnson Graduate School of Management) were selected to represent Cornell in the final round of the competition held at Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, WA.
Once the finalists reached Redmond to present their ideas, they were divided into different teams comprised of students from other schools and given a new challenge to address in 24 hours.
Reflecting on the value of his experience at Firenze BXT, Colin Budd observed that “[the competition] taught … a very important lesson: there is always another solution to a problem. It is only a matter of asking the right question.” Budd continued to say that Pradeep pushed his team to “dream bigger, design better, and approach challenges from unconventional perspectives.”
Thao Ly Bui Tran compared the competition to a real world situation, if not tougher. “In a day and a half, we had to get to know each other, deal with conflicts, and motivate each other when we had only 4 or 5 hours of sleep for 2 days,” said Tran. “We were literally ‘Sleepless in Seattle.’”
Michael Dezube, whose team ultimately won the competition, explained that he was assigned to a team with students from Ohio State and Carnegie Mellon. “My experience at Redmond was awesome!” said Dezube. “I had no functional familiarity with these people, and initially no shared experiences, but … we were under a serious time crunch and thus we quickly adapted and began working as a team. It forced us to go for the low hanging fruits — that is, to see what ideas were not only good but also feasible to fully flesh out in the small amount of time we had.”
Dezube noted that working with students from different majors from other schools was a unique and rewarding experience. “I had never really worked with a designer before,” said Dezube, “and it was quite different as their ideas are different and the tools/methods they are familiar with are also quite different.”