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Investment ideas take center stage at inaugural forum

Students and faculty from across campus and alumni from around the country gathered for the first time with one topic in mind: investing.

At the Cornell Investment Ideas Forum, five student teams vied for $1,000 in prize money as they pitched their investment ideas to a panel of industry experts. Alumni panelists advised students on how to achieve success in the investment arena, and Andrew Karolyi, dean of the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, spoke about trends in environmental, sustainability and governance issues. The forum took place virtually May 1.

The forum put Cornell students’ strengths on display, Karolyi said, noting they work in an instinctively collaborative way, with broad-based analytical thinking. “It’s a very Cornell way of doing things,” he said.

The forum was a major initiative emerging from the SC Johnson College’s interdisciplinary theme, Investing at Cornell, established in 2019, which connects faculty and students across campus who are interested in studying, researching and working in the field of investments. Cornell’s Parker Center for Investment Research sponsored the forum.

Originally planned for 2020 and postponed due to COVID-19, the event was designed to support Investing at Cornell’s goal of connecting the many Cornell students who are interested in investing, according to organizers Scott Stewart, clinical professor of finance and faculty co-director of the Parker Center, and Lakshmi Bhojraj, the Breazzano Family Executive Director of the Parker Center. More than 15 clubs across campus pursue investing as one of their activities, they said.

The five teams pitching investment ideas included undergraduates from the School of Hotel Administration (SHA), the ILR School, the College of Human Ecology, and the College of Engineering; MBA students from the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management; and master’s degree students specializing in real estate from SHA’s Baker Program in Real Estate.

Student teams delivered a wide range of proposals, from startup funding and real estate deals to traditional stock pitches.

The judges, most of them alumni investment professionals, chose three finalist teams and gave feedback in private sessions to improve their presentations for the final round. The finalists were: a team of undergraduates from SHA, the ILR School and the College of Human Ecology; a team of Johnson MBA students; and a team of master’s degree students in SHA’s Baker Program in Real Estate.

An alumni panel discussion, “Key Skills Needed for Effective Investing Today,” followed. Panelists offered students insights into the courses, skills and the knowledge needed to succeed in investment jobs, based on their firsthand experiences in the industry.

Elif Korkmaz ’18 (ILR), U.S. equity sales associate at J.P. Morgan, said her experience as an undergraduate equity research associate in the Cayuga Fund distinguished her right out of school.

Alex Cheriyan, MBA ’15, regional director and manager at Dimensional Fund Advisors, recommended joining the Cayuga Fund and taking courses such as Statistics and Investment Analysis and Portfolio Management. Todd Edmonds, M.Eng. ’17, exotics trader at Barclays, emphasized the importance of building relationships and recommended meeting professionals when they come to campus for seminars. Lulu Zheng ’17 (ILR), equity analyst at Axion Capital, Millennium, was also a panelist.

In the final round of presentations, the three finalist teams delivered their revised presentations and answered judges’ questions.

Grimm City Investors, composed of team members Cody Perez, MBA/MPS ’22, and Chasidy Miles, MPS ’22, came in first place, winning the top prize of $1,000. They recommended investing in a real estate limited partnership based on a live deal that Perez has been working on.

“As a startup currently undergoing fundraising, we had an opportunity at the forum to practice our pitch in front of experienced investment professionals in a low-risk environment,” Perez said.

Second place went to an all-MBA team, Lever Up, that pitched a leveraged buyout of National Beverage. Taking third place, CMJG, an undergraduate team, pitched a buy recommendation on Marriot International stock.

Before the announcement of the winner, Karolyi, who specializes in the investment industry, spoke about the field’s growing interest in environmental, sustainability and governance (ESG) issues. As investors study ESG company disclosures, there are many complaints, said Karolyi, about the transparency, comprehensiveness and usability of ESG ratings. There is no consensus on what the right metrics are and how they should be measured.

However, he sees this as an opportunity and challenged Cornell students to leverage their analytical and collaboration skills to address the issue.

“Could we be the ones answering the call?” he asked. “It’s an optimistic challenge.”

Susan Hu is a communications specialists with Cornell’s Parker Center for Investment Research.

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