Wharton MBA students could save the planet—in less than 48 hours.

Two days was all it took for more than 840 freshly minted Wharton MBA students to conceptualize 2,500 business solutions designed to address global climate change.

But there could only be one winning Big Idea.

During the Pre-Term Big Idea exercise, students were challenged to work within their learning teams to develop a business concept to solve an aspect of a large-scale business and societal issue. Students considered this year’s theme—climate change—in two ways: products and services designed to mitigate climate change, and products and services that help humans adapt to climate change.

Before developing their ideas and pitching them to classmates, students attended a series of lectures about climate change, exposing them to faculty investigating the issue.

“This exercise really gets students excited about the Wharton curriculum, while also fostering a sense of pride and appreciation for the caliber of students they’ll be working with throughout their time here,” says Jeff Klein, WG’05, executive director of the Wharton Graduate Leadership Program. “In general, it is a high-energy event for students, and incredible to watch.”

On day one of the Big Idea, each MBA student submitted three ideas for consideration. They worked within their teams of five to six students, honing the best idea and determining the need, the solution and the financial, social or environmental value of that solution.

On day two, each of the 144 learning teams presented their idea to all members of the MBA Class of 2015, who voted for their favorites. The top three teams then presented those ideas in front of their classmates and a panel of judges consisting of three alumni and one faculty member during the Big Idea Finals.

Finalists’ concepts included a device that can harness the energy generated during a workout on an elliptical machine to charge a cell phone, plugs that sense when an electronic device is not in use and cut off power, an in-shower speaker system that encourages users to decrease water usage by switching from music to commercials after a period of time, and a mobile app that rewards users for carpooling by offering gasoline discounts and other incentives.


Photo credit: Tommy Leonardi

“It’s really remarkable what the students are able to accomplish in a short amount of time,” Klein says. “What they have achieved within their learning teams during the Big Idea exercise really speaks to what students can accomplish during their time here at Wharton.”

Judges selected the winning idea based on its potential environmental impact and profitability and its overall feasibility.

The winning team—Green Points—envisioned a device that measures energy and water usage in hotel rooms and provides incentives to guests who come in below a consumption threshold.

The Wharton Big Idea Pre-Term event was launched last summer. The goal is two-fold. It provides students with insight into the depth of faculty expertise and the ways in which different disciplines approach similar problems. And it gives teams an opportunity to see what they can achieve within their learning teams while enabling students to build relationships with one another.