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May 10, 2005

Engineering Graduate Student Wins
National Business Simulation Contest

By Doug Ramsey

A part-time graduate student in mechanical engineering might be a perfect candidate for Donald Trump’s The Apprentice, thanks to a business-savvy course developed by the Jacobs School of Engineering’s von Liebig Center for Entrepreneurism and Technology Advancement.

Eddie Minkoff, MAE grad student
and ViaSat mechanical engineer

Edward Minkoff has won an international competition designed to test how well students make business decisions. He took top honors in the Foundation® International Spring 2005 Challenge. The competition is organized by Northfield, IL-based Management Simulations, Inc., and based on the interactive computer-based simulation programs it markets under the brand name Capsim to educational institutions, corporations and the government market.

Competing individually, Minkoff outperformed teams from 18 different colleges and universities, some from as far away as China and Australia. He entered the contest after first using the simulation software last quarter in ENG 202, the third course in a three-course von Liebig series on managing entrepreneurial organizations.

“The course is designed to give students the perspective of a V.P. Engineering or a Chief Technical Officer in a fast-growing organization,” says Paul Kedrosky, Ph.D., the Academic Director of the von Liebig Center. “Running a simulation like this lets students get their hands dirty making many of the same decisions that a real manager would in a real technology company. Our engineers take it very seriously – as evidenced by Eddie winning despite being an engineer competing mostly against rivals who were enrolled in MBA programs.”

Any student who previously used the simulation software in class is allowed to compete in the twice-yearly challenge. During the month of April, each registered team in the Foundation challenge was given the reigns of a mock $100 million, publicly-traded company that designs, manufactures and sells the same high-tech and low-tech widgets. Using everything they had learned about finance, research and development, production and marketing, the students battled through round after round, first against the computer, then against each other.

“Each team makes decisions on how to react to the needs of the market and the strategies of the other teams,” says Minkoff, a part-time Master’s degree student in the Jacobs School’s Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering department while working full-time as a mechanical engineer at ViaSat in Carlsbad. “Ultimately the goal is to end in the best financial position, with the largest gain in virtual profits.”

In late April, in the final round, Minkoff and five other finalists and their respective companies simulated eight years of real-world business decisions -- over just three days. Using the Foundation simulation model (a companion challenge ran simultaneously for students using a different simulation model), the UCSD student racked up a total cumulative profit of more than $97 million, with total sales in the final year of over $101 million. Minkoff’s profit was $20 million higher than that of his nearest rival.

Asked why he thinks he did so well, Minkoff has a straight-forward answer. “I think what distinguished my entry over the others is that I had the best grasp of how the market worked in the simulation universe,” he explains. “Essentially, all of the products are similar enough, so you’re always better off having lots of mediocre products rather than a few excellent products. I think I had a good sense of what mattered and what didn't.”

At ViaSat, Minkoff designs chassis for airborne broadband communications equipment. The Bellingham, WA, native earned an undergraduate degree blending mechanical design and social studies at Stanford University in 2002. After receiving his MS degree from the Jacobs School in late 2006, Minkoff may go on to an MBA as a prelude to shifting from pure engineering work to a combination of engineering, business and, he says, “something entrepreneurial.”

Minkoff is not the first UCSD student to win a Capsim challenge: a campus team won the Capstone® Challenge in spring 2001, the first year that MSI staged the competition based on the first version of its business simulation software.

"Because of the interactive dynamics of business decisions, simulations have been proven the most effective training tool available," says Dan Smith, president of MSI and a professor at DePaul University, Chicago. "We run the twice-a-year Challenge because the nature of friendly competition drives students to excel, and if we can help to generate better-prepared business students, they will help drive successful businesses."

Media Contact: Doug Ramsey, Jacobs School of Engineering (858) 822-5825

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