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Retail Innovation Challenge Launched to Help Retail Sector Adapt and Emerge from COVID-19

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The Bensadoun School of Retail Management at McGill University in Montreal has launched a retail innovation challenge to help the retail sector as it adapts to and emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The School invited university students across Canada from different academic fields to come together and generate actionable solutions to assist the retail sector.

The challenge presents an experiential learning opportunity to mobilize the knowledge and creativity of university students and embolden them to solve real problems in collaboration with businesses during this period of economic recovery, says the School.

Charles de Brabant, executive director of the Bensadoun School, said the educational institution launched this initiative as a way to assist the retail sector in these unprecedented times that could be different from and complementary to what other organizations were doing, such as retail industry associations and consulting firms.

The mission of the Bensadoun School is to educate and empower a global network of interdisciplinary thinkers and practitioners who research, envision and develop a dynamic and successful world of retail.

“The challenge is to give students, who may not have internships this summer or have seen them canceled, real life opportunities to work with retailers . . . who are trying to figure out how they’re going to reinvent themselves or rethink their businesses or what are good ideas to survive as the economy opens up,” said de Brabant. 

“So this is where the Retail Innovation Challenge came as an idea in mid-April and we decided to launch it eventually as a series of challenges starting with the food sub-sector of retail and we broadened it to include restaurants in this category.”

Business cases have been distributed to student teams across the country which include two restaurants (Bacaro Pizzeria and Food Chain), one coffee business (Café Barista), and one grocer (Can Am). These last two companies were principally BtoB businesses prior COVID-19 and pivoted to online BtoC to survive. 

Eighty teams have been registered for the challenge and they come from 20 universities throughout Canada. The challenge, which began on June 4th, will run over three rounds. Townhalls will be offered with experts from two sponsors, Lightspeed and Canada Post, as well as mentoring sessions for the 8 finalist teams during the week of June 15. A semi final round on June 14 will allow the top five teams per company to present the respective company leaders. The finals will be held virtually on June 21 in front of an independent jury and winners announced that day.

“Like most sectors of the economy and maybe even more so, retail has been strongly impacted by COVID-19, especially retailers focused on non-essential goods and services with the closure of almost all physical stores, significant layoffs, and a dramatic drop in demand, even for those with an on-line offering. And a recent study by McKinsey & Company reveals that as the economy opens up, only 20 percent of Canadian consumers feel optimistic about Canada’s economic recovery,” says the Bensadoun School. 

De Brabant said the ambitions of the School are to be the leading academic institution in the world dedicated to the future of retail.

“So we have global ambitions but we’ve basically decided given the pandemic and the focus on local and national to focus more on local companies in this first instance at least trying to get this thing off the ground but mostly also because there seems to be this very strong nationalistic community spirit that’s developed throughout this pandemic,” he said. “So we’ve put our focus there.”

The School was launched after receiving a $25-million donation from the  Bensadoun Family Foundation, created by Aldo Bensadoun who founded and led Aldo, the global shoe empire. It began taking its first students in September of 2018.

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He now works on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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