It was a Saturday afternoon at Cornell Tech's campus in New York City, and 42 American students from the Johnson Cornell Tech MBA program joined 59 Chinese MBA/FMBA students from Cornell-Tsinghua for the first FinTech Challenge on campus.

Shortly after meeting, students were split into 20 cross-national teams and told they had 24 hours to accomplish the following:

  • Create a company that convinces Chinese Nationals to invest their money in U.S. real estate; and
  • Present the business plan — including financial, operating and regulatory plans — to financiers and CEOs who also happen to be experts in U.S. and Chinese financial technology.

The challenge was the brainchild of entrepreneur and Johnson grad Jason Hogg, who was teaching on campus this spring. Hogg conceived of the event while overseeing mainland China operations for American Express.

"I started to realize how intertwined our economies have become," Hogg explained. "It's very critical that we figure out technological, financial,and also regulatory solutions, to enable the two economies to connect and to create that bridge."

And so, Hogg thought, what better way to cap the Tsinghua students' two week trip, which included tours of Wall Street and conversations with top financiers, than an immersive, collaborative and integrative challenge with their American counterparts?

After a 24-hour whirlwind, five MBAs in matching t-shirts had sufficiently dazzled JD Finance CEO Joe Chen, an event sponsor and judge, to win the $10,000 prize.

"The experience was great," said Zihihao Wawg, a member of winning team MeetHome. "We came here for negotiation practice and then shared experiences with the Cornell Tech students, who are mostly in technology."

Wawg, like many of the other Tsinghua students, has a background in finance. Despite different languages and specialties, however, students seemed to click right away.

"I was impressed by the great collegial environment and attitude," Hogg said, noting too that he "didn't feel like the language barrier was an issue."

This collaboration between Chinese and American students also symbolized the deepening connection and ties between institutions and companies in those two countries.

"When I come to the United States, my feeling is that innovation is everywhere in this country," Chen said moments before the final presentation yielded to a sushi-and-dumpling reception. "We need to create partnerships. We are still at just the startup stage."