Aarhus Case Competition 2020 marks the 9th year anniversary for ACC. It has been nine years with a steep growth and development curve for the case competition, which has undergone a transformation for each year it has existed.
This is, amongst other reasons, because each year a new committee is recruited to plan and organise the ACC events of the year. Each year this is an eager committee with fresh new eyes and a tremendous amount of motivation to continuously create the largest and (we believe) best case competition in the Nordics.
To celebrate the 9th birthday of ACC in 2020, we sat down with a cup of coffee and talked with the two men who started this journey - the Founding Fathers of Aarhus Case Competition - Anders Thomsen and Jesper Agerholm. They told us the fascinating story of two students with a dream and a goal to create an embracing and highly professional case competition in Denmark’s second-largest city, Aarhus. Today, nine years after the first ACC week was held, they are still involved in the evolvement of the case competition, and today they act as active members of the ACC Advisory Board.
Jesper Agerholm Anders Thomsen
Director CEO & Co-founder
Clearwater International NoMoreHours
How did ACC start, what was the motivation behind, and what do the founders believe Aarhus Case Competition
will look like in another nine years? These are all questions that will be answered during this blog post.
Thank you for following and happy reading.
A blog post by Julie Meldgaard Nielsen, Head of PR & Marketing, ACC 2020
How did ACC begin?
The initial thought to create, what we today know as Aarhus Case Competition, was planted in 2011. The Founding Fathers of this great competition, Anders and Jesper, had previously participated in case competitions themselves. Additionally, they both studied and had a small company together. Needless to say, they knew each other very well.
One day the two were discussing the universe of case competitions that had emerged in Denmark, and they quickly agreed to add Aarhus University to the map. They realised that if this were to become a reality and a success, they would have to hit the ground running - and this became their mantra moving forward.
They knew creating ACC would be a big challenge, but they were up for it! They also knew that they would not be able to achieve their goal and realise their dream alone, and they needed people with different skill sets to assist them. This was how the first ACC committee was ever assembled.
Additionally, they had heard that the Aarhus BSS student organisation Studenterlauget might have an interest in collaborating with events such as theirs. As so, they reached out and quickly entered into a partnership. Together with skilled people from Studenterlauget, Anders and Jesper put together an advisory board consisting of people with many different skills. Their job was to help develop and create the concept of Aarhus Case Competition, and it still is.
What separated Aarhus Case Competition, from those that already existed?
When meeting Anders and Jesper, they share with us that what they experienced back in 2011, was that most (if not all) case competitions at the time were very elitarian.
“A lot of case competitions are very elitarian in their way of thinking. It is only the best of the best students that are chosen, and that actually makes it a little nepotistic in my opinion” - Anders Thomsen
They wanted Aarhus Case Competition to be different. They made it their mission to change the terms of case competitions by creating one that invited every student at Aarhus University to participate no matter their background. They knew that getting top grades did not necessarily equal the capability to solve cases while under time pressure, and generally the ability to communicate appropriately.
Additionally, they wanted not only top students, but all students, to have the ability to learn new skills and tools that case competitions provides. This is why ACC from the very beginning was based on democratisation. Meaning that no matter what a person was studying or what grades they were given, they were welcome to participate in this case competition. Today, this is still the foundation of ACC.
To make sure this openness became a reality, they created two competitions within ACC:
1) The nine teams (today called ACC Advanced) and 2) ACC Aspire Case Camp.
The nine teams were created as a way to inspire the students at Aarhus University who were passionate about and interested in case solving, but not very experienced. These teams consisted, and still consists of very experienced and skilled case solvers and case competition participants from Denmark and other Nordic countries.
Dividing ACC into two parts with ACC Advanced being one, was not done to put on a show or for participants to brag. It was created to teach aspiring students at AU that if they practice hard, it is possible to solve and present extremely professional solutions within a limited time
Aspire Case Camp
Aspire Case Camp is an essential aspect of what the ACC concept is.
“The main competition for us, and the reason why it all started is really ACC Aspire, even though most people believe that it is ACC Advanced. And this is where Aarhus Case Competition separates itself from other case competitions as we want to teach every student how to do structured problem solving and communicate clearly. The focus is wide and not only on the top” - Jesper Agerholm.
They wanted every single student at Aarhus University to have the opportunity to be a part of a case competition, and work with real problems for real companies. Aspire Case Camp allows just that. Even though Aarhus Case Competition is still very BSS driven today, every student at Aarhus University is permitted, and furthermore encouraged by the organising committee and the various partner companies, to participate in Aspire.
What challenges did you meet in the start-up phase?
Even though Jesper and Anders had a mantra to hit the ground running, not everything was unchallenging in the beginning. They experienced first-hand how difficult it was to get people interested in something new like ACC. Primarily because no one knew what a case competition even was and with no reference to previous competitions, they were having trouble communicating all the significant aspects of the competition. However, this was already a lot easier with ACC 2013, as the first competition became a great success. Luckily, today, most students are very familiar with the concept of case competitions and the value they present.
Especially the ACC Advanced was a massive success from the beginning, with top students applying to be part of it. Aspire Case Camp did, for a good reason, face more challenges in the beginning. The very first year only 15-20 teams participated each day. However, each year the number has gone up, and for ACC 2019 more than 200 students were solving cases every day at Aspire Case Camp.
What motivated you to continue Aarhus Case Competition?
When the two founders decided to pursue their dream in creating the biggest case competition in the Nordics, they lived by a mantra to go big or go home. They were motivated in making sure that ACC would be amazing from the very first year. As a matter of fact, they were convinced that this was the only way to ensure the continued survival of the competition. They knew that the concept was great, but they needed to convince the rest of the students as well.
“I remember when we were standing in the assembly hall right before the show the first year, and we saw all these people on the red carpet, waiting to see the show. That’s when we realised that we had succeeded. We had created hype around this event!” - Anders Thomsen
Once they realised how eager students were to spend their spare time participating in stimulating events such as this, they knew that they had created something big. This was a rush that only motivated them to assist in creating an even better ACC the following year - and this has been the case ever since.
What value does ACC create for the students?
There are so many ways in which ACC creates value for the students involved. Talking to Anders and Jesper only made this even more explicit.
First of all, the cornerstone of case competition is the ability to get a closer look into the real business world. To solve real-life cases and communicate the solutions to the case. Being able to try this in the safe surroundings of a university, before entering the so-called “adult life”, is a great opportunity and will give the participating students a whole new set of skills.
“We see today that your type of education is not necessarily the most important parameter. It is your ability to learn new things, be hardworking and co-operate with people different than yourself to get the best results, that will most often get you the job. ACC teaches you these skills” - Jesper Agerholm.
This is, amongst other reasons, why each year it is seen that several students are recruited by the participating companies — not just students from ACC Advanced, also students from Aspire Case Camp and even from the organising committee. Therefore, ACC presents an opportunity for students to show their worth in front of high-end companies and to train that network-gene.
Do you want to know what it’s like to be part of Aspire or the organising committee? Then read our previous blog post written by our dear case writers, aka past Aspire participants.
Furthermore, what Anders and Jesper wanted to do with this competition was to teach the participating students the skills needed in case competitions, and this is also where a lot of value is added. ACC goes hand in hand with what students are taught in class. If you are not able to put theories and problems into a broader perspective, and additionally communicate it properly, what can you really do with what you learn? This lesson is a hard value to measure, but it is most certainly there.
“It is naive to think that just because you have perfect grades, you will get the job after university. What about the person next to you, who also have perfect grades but also did a lot of extracurricular things such as case competitions. And then this person already knows someone in the company because they met them at an after school activity. Of course, this person will get the job. This career mindset needs and the knowledge that there is a life after university needs to be even more present amongst students. I believe ACC can assist in this” - Anders Thomsen.
What makes ACC continue to work?
When asking the two founders what they believe makes ACC work year after year, the answer is short and precise: It is the top motivated students that each year volunteer to spend hours and hours organising this great event.
“The ACC Organizing Committee is such a funny thing. In so many ways it works like a normal organisation, but one where you fire 90% of your employees each year - and then the new employees have to do even better than the previous ones. That is some pretty rough terms!” - Anders Thomsen.
ACC Organising Committee of 2012
For some, it might seem overly complicated to replace most of the committee each year. However, it also provides the opportunity to add fresh eyes, new ideas and a touch of eagerness into the organisation each year. This is why the value is not only created for students and partners but also the organising committee.
Where do you hope to see ACC in another nine years?
When asking Jesper and Anders what hopes they have for ACC the next few years, the answer is not brief, and it is clear that ACC is still something they care for deeply. However, some elements seem to be of more importance to them.
“For me, the final part of our vision would be for ACC to be an inevitable part of having studied at Aarhus University” - Anders Thomsen.
Even though awareness of ACC is relatively high today, especially at Aarhus BSS, it has still not become an incorporated part of being a student at Aarhus University. And it might not be for many years to come. However, it is a beautiful vision to aim for, and if ACC continues to grow as it has for the past nine years, who is to say that this will not someday become a reality.
“We do not have the vision to keep ACC a BSS only thing. On the contrary, I hope that one day every faculty at Aarhus University will have students participating in the annual competition. A variety of backgrounds and skillsets will only make it even more interesting” - Jesper Agerholm.
Aarhus Case Competition welcomes all students from all faculties at Aarhus University. However, there is a tendency that it is primarily business students who participate, and the hope and goal is to change this moving forward.
“The vision, for now, is to spread the message of ACC even wider. Not to be focussed on BSS students only, but focus on all of Aarhus University… If we could influence Aarhus University into creating more case-oriented classes that would be amazing. Some courses already do this, but it is far from all” - Jesper Agerholm.
When students go out into the real world after finishing their studies, they will experience that in a company you work with people from different backgrounds and with different personalities. Therefore, one aim is to see this variety amongst the participants joining ACC as well. At the moment, there is a tendency where people believe ACC is all about economics. A beautiful vision is for this to change in the future.
As you can hopefully see now, ACC is much more than meets the eye. If you are interested in knowing more about ACC or perhaps even participate, keep an eye on our site and our social media, where all ACC related events and announcements will be posted.