The NATHIC winning team

(From left) A.J. Singh, Chase Reinis, Joaquin de la Cerda Harlow, Jack DeBoer, Jake Beachum, Megan Stephanic, Megan Maas and Richard Farrar

For the second year in a row, a team of students from the School of Hospitality Business at Michigan State University earned top honors in a competition at the North America Hotel Investment Conference (NATHIC) in Chicago, November 19-21.

The School serves as the academic partner to NATHIC, a conference designed for senior-level hospitality investment professionals and presented by Hotel Management and the International Hotel Investment Forum (IHIF). NATHIC each year delves into the issues most relevant to hospitality investors, operators, developers, management companies, lenders, hotel owners, hotel buyers, and lawyers, among other industry players.

The competition, based in part on ABC’s “Shark Tank,” is called “The Firing Squad: Where great ideas are executed.” Teams from New York University, DePaul University, and MSU stepped in front of a Firing Squad of industry veterans to present a ten-minute presentation (three-minute video, six-minute power point, one-minute closing) proposing a new brand concept.

Each team adhered to strict guidelines that included a food and beverage concept, initial development plan/site, new build and/or conversion ideas, marketing concepts, and more. Following each presentation, the teams were on the clock to answer rapid-fire questions from the panel.

“The students had to think on their feet and be very well prepared,” says Dr. A.J. Singh, director of the School’s Real Estate Investment Management Specialization and the team’s head coach. “They presented themselves beautifully. It’s as though they are already professionals, working in the industry.”

Working together since early September, team members Megan Maas (BA Hospitality Business ’15), president of the School’s Real Estate Investment Club, Chase Reinis (BA Hospitality Business ’14), Jake Beachum (BA Hospitality Business ’16), Megan Stephanic (BA Hospitality Business ’15), and Joaquin de la Cerda Harlow (BA Hospitality Business ’15), wowed the audience with the concept “NOMAD,” which proposed to redefine economy lodging for millennials.

Megan explains that NOMAD is a modern economy hotel with small, functionally designed guestrooms and more common space so that people can be “alone together.” It also features “Unwind,” an automated wine bar; “Revive,” a self-check-out mini market; mobile check-in; and modular construction. She says, “Our target guests are tech savvy, they desire authenticity, and they are looking for a hotel that provides both a modern image, as well as value. The name ‘NOMAD’ refers to a modern nomad: a person who is constantly on the go, traveling from place to place, and connected to their network by technology.”

Three industry mentors who helped bring NOMAD to the finish line included School alumni Jim Anhut (MBA ’85), senior vice president of Design and Quality for InterContinental Hotels Group; Richard Farrar (BA Hositality Business ’73), president, The Farrar Consulting Group; and Michael Kitchen (BA Hospitality Business ’09), vice president of Acquisition and Development for Aparium Hotel Group. They agreed that the students took a bold step in creating NOMAD, a semi-prefab modular lodging product competing in the economy sector with a trendy twist geared for 25-45 year olds. Richard says, “They nailed every part of the presentation from concept to Q & A, with a truly outstanding video promoting their new NOMAD brand.  It came to life for the five Firing Squad judges and the entire audience of 250 people.  Spartans Will…and Spartans Did!”

Indeed, several conference attendees were so impressed they gave team members on-the-spot job offers, and there was genuine interest from investors, with additional opportunities for the winning team to make their presentation at industry conferences in the future.

And that’s not all. Hotel industry legend and MSU Alumnus Jack DeBoer (BA Hospitality Business ’52), who delivered the NATHIC keynote address, was so proud of the students, he flew them home in his private jet with an offer to mentor the students so they could “bring NOMAD home!” In every way, the students were soaring.

Hospitality Business and Finance junior Jake Beachum was effusive. “We had an excellent team this year and I truly believe our concept was unique. This has been one of the most challenging yet gratifying experiences, and I am so happy that I could represent the School. I am particularly thankful for the professors and MSU alumni that guided us. Their assistance and support is what gave us the motivation to continue.”

In addition to Dr. Singh, the team had guidance from Acting Director and Professor Dr. Bonnie Knutson and from Dr. Ray Schmidgall. Dr. Jeff Beck, Dr. Lu Zhang, and Dr. Jeff Elsworth gave valuable feedback before the presentation.

Energized by the students’ success, Dr. Knutson said, “General Douglas MacArthur said, ‘A true leader…becomes one by the quality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.’  This quote applies perfectly to our team because the actions of all five of our students contributed equally – each in his or her own way – to the success of their NOMAD concept.  And at the same time, their integrity shone brightly through their passion, their hard work, and their professionalism.  They represented themselves, our School, and our University with honor.  They are truly tomorrow’s leaders.”