One of China’s largest online retailers, JD.com, visited the Cornell Tech campus in Manhattan April 24-25 and presented a challenge to 117 Chinese and American MBA students who gathered for two days of international collaboration.
The question posed to students was, “How can technology improve JD.com’s position in China’s e-commerce industry by 2020?”
They convened at the second annual hackathon, with students from the Cornell-Tsinghua MBA/FMBA program working with students from the Johnson Cornell Tech MBA program.
The students were split into 20 teams, each of which set out to explore how new applications of technology could help the online powerhouse. The proposals ranged from creating linkages between JD.com and a social networking platform to creating an online system to determine price sensitivity among Chinese consumers.
The winning solution was the creation of an online negotiating tool, called Joy Bot, through which consumers can have access to goods at lower prices. The online robot would also allow JD.com to glean more information about its customers’ preferences, informing their dynamic pricing model.
Among the nine judges were JD.com senior algorithm engineer Huang Weinan and Jerry Lou, CEO and managing partner of Everpine Capital, whose companies sponsored the event.
“We’ve got a lot of ideas here worth polishing,” said Weinan. “Some were very impressive.”
Lou urged the students to continue finding creative ways to help define 21st-century commerce.
“Keep using your bold impulses and young hearts to create new business models,” he said. “Keep doing it for 20 years, and incredible things will happen for you.”
For Johnson Cornell Tech MBA students like David Cheng ’17, who designed Joy Bot, it was a chance to put to use the skills he’d honed in his year at Cornell Tech. Input from the Chinese finance MBA students helped him tailor the application for the Chinese market.
“They had the domain knowledge and helped with the cultural translation,” said Cheng. “These two days were the capstone of my Cornell experience.”
Cornell-Tsinghua student Kan Ding, who collaborated on the team with Cheng, thought the robot built by Cheng had real potential in the Asian market.
“It’s essential to get more information about the customer,” she said.
Yaru Chen, academic dean for China initiatives at Johnson, said she looked forward to the 2018 hackathon, when the students will convene at Cornell Tech’s new campus, scheduled to open in September.
“This is our startup,” said Chen. “And next year we’re going to be even bigger with our new home on the Roosevelt Island campus.”
David McKay Wilson is a freelance writer.