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Ethan Chlebowski’s Think and Do Experience

Some might consider the summer months as a time to kick back and relax, especially if you are a recent college graduate with a career-launching job lined up.

That was partially true for Ethan Chlebowski, who graduated in May 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in accounting. He had accepted a position with Deloitte, but it would not begin until October, so he was hunting for “something to occupy myself with while supplementing income for summer adventures,” he said in an email interview with Poole College communications.

He found that something with MindSumo, a website that connects college students with companies that are seeking fresh ideas for resolving some of the challenges they face. As of this summer, it had about 300,000 student participants – including NC State students – who select one or more challenges they’d like to work on.

MindSumo awards cash prizes for solutions that are judged and place in the top 10 percent of responses. The website has hosted nearly 1,000 challenges for numerous companies like Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Facebook, GE, Verizon, Target, Shell, P&G and Unilever. NC State has placed 19th on the list of top-20 universities for their challenge performance, earning student participants a total of $46,000.

For Chlebowski, the site provided the mental challenge he sought as well as income for his summer travels. Before leaving for Europe, his first adventure, he submitted a challenge and learned a few weeks later that he had won $100 for his response.

“Then I knew that I could do it: Work my own hours, take vacation whenever, and keep my mind sharp with challenging ideas,” he said. By early September, he had submitted 66 challenges, 51 of which were judged and had winners selected. Chlebowski won 25 of those, earning $2,600, working less than 20 hours a week on the projects.

“I have run a variety of challenges, from improving medical devices to coming up with a new carbonated drink for Sonic,” he said.

Although Chlebowski had won multiple challenges in the past, he has dominated the competition within the last few weeks. His four top-level responses addressed came from the following challenges:

  • Auto finance company: “What should we do to draw in qualified prospects at outreach events?”
  • Anonymous healthcare company: “How can we improve the experience of using a syringe via connected tech?”
  • Anonymous athlete company “Create a personal care product to help athletes recover.”
  • United Nations Federal Credit Union (UNFCU): “How should a credit union loyalty program work?”

“There were several challenges that were easier to solve based on my classes and personal interest in data analytics,” said Chlebowski, who also had completed Poole College’s the Data Analytics Honors Program in the past year.

The challenges aligned well with his future goals, he said, explaining: “I want to own my own company some day and these challenges made me consider aspects of a business I never have (considered) before. I had to piece together how everything would work cohesively.

In an email message to Byrnes (and reprinted here with his permission), he wrote: “Mindsumo has been a great experience for me! I wanted to thank you for having someone talk on it in your class two years ago! I only wish I had started it sooner, since this would have really helped with getting real experience that I could talk about in various job interviews. Also as a younger student it would be great to piece together how those terms and concepts we learn in our classes can fit into a real world solution.”

Chlebowski also offered to share his experience with current students, an offer that Byrnes has accepted. He spoke at Byrnes’ class in the Nelson Hall auditorium on September 22, in the same marketing methods course where he first learned about the competition.

MindSumo competitions have been attracting thousands of participants each day – including more than 1,500 NC State students – and challenging them to put their innovative solutions to the test. A $1,000 award for each challenge is split among the top 10 percent of respondents; the remaining 40 are given honorable mention.

Chlebowski said his Mindsumo experiences have been “invigorating,’ and recommends that other students try out the MindSumo challenges.

“There is a challenge in about every field – such as marketing or data analytics, product design or corporate social responsibility. It’s a great way to learn how those terms and concepts we learn in class can fit in a real world situation, such as developing a marketing slogan or campaign for a product. It really challenges you to come up with new and inventive ideas because that’s most often what these companies are looking for when deciding winners,” Chlebowski said.

Students are encouraged to visit the site regularly, as new challenges are launched almost every weekday. MindSumo also sends email announcements to students registered with the site, when new challenges become available that are aligned with their stated major and interests.