Students shine, impress rapt audience with brand ideas

Student teams from Michigan State University, New York University and DePaul University competed against one another to curry favor from the judges for their brand ideas and models.

Student teams from Michigan State University, New York University and DePaul University competed against one another to curry favor from the judges for their brand ideas and models.


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Chicago – In one of the most spirited sessions at this year’s North American Hotel Investment Conference, teams from Michigan State University, New York University and local DePaul University competed against one another in a take-off of the popular ABC series Shark Tank, trying to win over judges with their ideas in the hope of attaining money to bankroll them. (Not real money, mind you.)

Each presentation included a feasibility study describing the management, operations, real estate and ownership. 

The winner of the event was the team from Michigan State University’s School of Hospitality Business. Their boutique brand, Exposure Hotels, was geared toward millennials with “an energy and social scene that excites them,” and design flourishes such as exposed brick walls, architectural beams and textured wallpaper.

The team included Chelsea Hallman, Nevena Divic, TJ McDermott, Chase Reinis and Dan Dyer and was led by Dr. Arjun Singh.

DePaul’s brand was based on wellness. Called Essential Series Hotels—where “wellness is not a compromise”—the brand was designed around four pillars: Mind, Body, Balance and Choice.

The DePaul team was comprised of Dominic Przewoznik, Kyle Harris, Bradley Hoban, Karli Bahner and Yun Pan and was led by Brian Barker. 

Meanwhile, NYU, too, locked in on the millennial traveler with their Trio Hotel brand (stylized TRIO). They had a specific location for their first hotel: Chicago’s hip West Loop.

The NYU team included Chloe Hsia, Cindy Kim and Hanna Giem and was led by Dr. Jukka Laitamaki

Judges for the event were: Bill DeForrest, president and CEO of Spire Hospitality; Dave Johnson, president and CEO of Aimbridge Hospitality; David Kong, president and CEO of Best Western International; David Buffam, CEO of New Castle Hotels & Resorts; and Jordan Langlois, VP of brand management of Vantage Hospitality Group.

All polled were quite taken aback and surprised at the depth of each presentation and the hard work and preparation evidenced by each team. They also universally loved the concept, as it was a departure from the regular investment conference fare. A sampling of comments shows.

Said Aimbridge’s Johnson: “The session was a nice twist from the norm. It was evident the students were prepared and put a lot of effort into their respective presentations.”

Spire’s DeForrest was equally moved. “I was extremely impressed with the creative and thoughtful approach and the ability to make a strong business case for exciting concepts,” he said.

Best Western’s Kong, the lone brand CEO on the panel, said, “I was impressed with each of the presentations—the obvious preparation, the poise of the students and their creative approach.”

Vantage’s Langlois, the youngest of the judges, had a great appreciation for the session and the students. “It was by far the most innovative, unique and interactive session that I’ve seen and have participated in at a conference in many years,” he said. “Kudos to the students who put in countless hours, especially during finals week.”

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