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The winning team at the third annual Hackathon at Cornell Tech’s Roosevelt Island campus.

MBA students collaborate across cultures at Cornell Tech Hackathon

There was $22,000 in prize money at stake when 130 American and Chinese students came together at Cornell Tech’s Roosevelt Island campus for the third annual Hackathon among Cornell MBA students from campuses in Beijing, Ithaca and New York City April 28-29.

It marked the third year of the collaboration between one of China’s leading online retailers, JD.com, and Cornell’s Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management.

Seventy-three Chinese students from Cornell-Tsinghua’s FMBA program participated in the Hackathon, as part of their two-week residency in New York City and Ithaca. Three Chinese journalists representing Bloomberg Business, China Entrepreneur and 21st Century Business Herald traveled with the JD team to document the competition.

The two-day event included 27 teams of American and Chinese students who were charged with developing a business proposal that would make JD Cloud, a digital storage division of JD.com, the cloud-of-choice in China and the world.

The winning team, which won $10,000, proposed a storage system for electronic medical records to serve Chinese hospitals. When fully scaled up, the plan, aligned with the Chinese government’s Healthy China 2030 initiative, would produce up to $33 billion a year in revenues.

The plan emerged from a team of two American and three Chinese students. When the competition began, the group considered a plan to address issues faced by rural farmers, who can suffer losses getting their produce to market, said Erica Ianotti, MBA ’19. But the team decided to develop the medical records proposal when they couldn’t find enough data to support their plan for the agricultural sector.

“I was up to 11 p.m. Saturday working on it, and then up early Sunday morning to help get it done,” she said.

The students worked together on the plan as the Chinese students informed the Americans about the Chinese health care system, and issues such as patient confidentiality. Henry Wu, a member of the winning team, said the collaboration tapped into the strengths of students from both countries.

“The U.S. students had a broader idea of research while the Chinese students focused on execution and cost efficiencies,” he said.

Ya-Ru Chen, Johnson’s academic dean for China Initiatives, remarked how the hackathon had developed since Jerry Lou of Everpine Capital brought in Joe Chen at JD finance three years ago to help launch it. “Support from Jerry Lou was vital to the launch of this initiative,” Chen said. “The hackathon event has become a great platform for our students across programs to work with and get to know each other.”

Leslie Liu, JD Group corporate vice president, said the event was an excellent opportunity for Chinese and American students to meet and learn ways to collaborate across cultural lines.

“You learn to collaborate and gain a global perspective,” he told the students. “Build your global network, which will help ensure your future success.”

David McKay Wilson is a freelance writer for Cornell SC Johnson.

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Rebecca Valli