5th Annual Team Challenge: How We Got Here

Believe it or not, we’re less than one month away from the 5th Annual Magnetar Academy Team Challenge. In anticipation of our biggest competition yet, we put together a retrospective to show you how far we have come and why it matters.


[Alec Litowitz, CEO of Magnetar Capital, helping students decipher signal from noise at the first Magnetar Academy Team Challenge.]

The first ever Magnetar Challenge was held on April 6, 2013, bringing together nearly 100 students from 10 Chicago public high schools. The Magnetar Challenge serves as an opportunity for students to demonstrate and put into action many of the financial concepts and theories studied in our curriculum during the school year. The students participate in a nearly day-long stock trading competition, where they work together as a team to make trading decisions based on bona fide trading data. In this first edition of the Challenge, for some students, this was the first time they had been exposed to all the excitement and pressure that comes with a trading environment. After an exhausting effort, Lindblom Math and Science Academy, located in West Englewood, was the winner, while Urban Prep Academy Bronzeville was second.

The first Challenge was a crucial stepping stone that proved students are very hungry for the opportunity to immerse themselves in a trading environment and learn from professionals. We saw first-hand how the students threw themselves into the competition and learned real-time lessons that a classroom setting can’t match. As the event has grown since 2013, Magnetar has made sure to keep those core values of the Challenge.


[Al Raby High School takes home the gold at the second annual Magnetar Academy Team Challenge.]

The second challenge took place on March 1st, 2014 at Chicago’s Museum of Broadcast Communications. Year two saw numbers more than double, with nearly 250 students from over 20 schools joining the competition. The event also expanded beyond Chicago Public Schools, as suburban schools got in on the action. This not only provided a greater number of teams, but offered students the opportunity to meet and engage with their peers from other parts of the city and greater Chicagoland.

The 2014 Challenge also had a “Meet the Pros” Career Fair afterwards, where students met professionals from Chicago’s financial services industry. This new aspect was so well-received by students and professionals that we decided we should take it a step further in later editions and encourage the pros to be actual team coaches.

The second Challenge was won by Al Raby High School, located in Chicago’s Garfield Park neighborhood, with Elk Grove High School in second.


[Winning team CICS Northtown Academy poses with former NFL player, American Ninja Warrior co-host and keynote speaker Akbar Gbaja-Biamila at the third annual Magnetar Academy Team Challenge.]

The Challenge expanded again in 2015, jumping to over 300 students from 33 teams. This was also the first year the Magnetar Challenge was hosted at fabled Soldier Field, which remains the event’s home. Competing at Soldier Field definitely added to the energy and intensity of the day, as many of the students had never been inside a venue of this magnitude, much less the home of the Chicago Bears.

Fitting with the football setting, former NFL player (and current “American Ninja Warrior” co-host) Akbar Gbaja-Biamila attended the Challenge. Gbaja-Biamila spoke with the students about the importance of financial literacy and taking control of their financial futures. The students were awestruck to interact with Gbaja-Biamila in such an intimate setting and hear first-hand about his life story.

This year, CICS Northtown Academy, a charter school in Chicago’s North Park neighborhood, took home the top prize, with Lindblom Academy returning to the podium in second place. 2015 also saw the introduction of a financial literacy quiz to the day’s events, which was won by Palatine High School.


[Students from Chicago High School of Agricultural Sciences celebrate an exciting moment at the fourth annual Magnetar Academy Team Challenge.]

Continuing the upward trajectory, last year was the Challenge’s biggest event yet. The number of students jumped to 324 students, on 38 teams from 27 schools. There were also more than 50 financial services professionals serving as coaches during the competition. And Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Treasurer Kurt Summers attended the 2016 Challenge, speaking with students and watching them showcase their skills.

Having coaches from the industry was a huge educational boost for the students. Not only could they look to the coaches for strategy and advice during the competition, but they also were able to ask the coaches more generally about their career paths and the work they do in finance. That type of insight and exposure is invaluable, especially for students who may not have any adults in their lives with financial services experience.

2014’s runner up, Elk Grove High School, became the first suburban winners of the event, with CICS Northtown finishing second. The financial literacy quiz was won by Walter Payton College Prep, a magnet school in the Old Town neighborhood of Chicago.


We’re less than one month away from the 2017 Magnetar Challenge, and we’re expecting the competition to grow in size and impact — we are on pace to have 51 teams from 40 schools, with approximately 440 students and 55 industry coaches. If you’d like to know more or become a coach, visit www.magnetaracademy.org, and reach out to us on Twitter at @MagnetarAcademy.