Merage School Hosts Modern Modular Housing Case Competition

By The UCI Paul Merage School of Business

Irvine, CA - (July 02, 2024) -

When local real estate developer and owner of AI Accommodation (AIA) Frank Jao visited UCI’s Paul Merage School of Business to discuss new advancements in modular housing with Dean Ian Williamson, they developed an idea to hold a case study competition for business plans to implement the technology. “The housing is remarkable,” says Ed Coulson, director of the Merage School’s Center for Real Estate. “This new modular housing is much cheaper to construct than regular housing, but it also brings several other cost advantages, certainly in terms of the quality of the housing, given the technological features.”

Williamson and Jao came to Coulson to gauge his interest in hosting and administering the competition. “I immediately said yes, although we had never held an event quite like this” says Coulson. “With the great help of the sponsors, and Paul Merage School and CRE staffs, we were able to make it happen”.


The Miracle of Modular Housing

AIA recently partnered with NousLogic to develop modular housing solutions at a cost that is two to three times lower to manufacture than conventional homes and takes only two or three weeks to construct. Modular units are stackable up to four stories and feature customized exteriors and interiors. Compact furniture options are also available.

All units are equipped with smart home services, including smart secure access with integrated smart door locks and video doorbells running on different Smart City long-range wireless networks such as Amazon Sidewalk. These modular homes have numerous potential applications. They make excellent accessory dwelling units (ADUs), which typically are built in the backyards of existing homes. They also can serve as homeless shelters, storage buildings, or additional classrooms for crowded schools.

In partnership with NousLogic’s Remote Patient Monitoring platform, these units can serve as assisted living units for residents who need help with day-to-day activities. With all of this in mind, participants were challenged to present judges with a business plan that would address the market segment to be filled, production plans, geographic scope, projected timeline and financial viability.


Seven Competing Teams

UCI’s first Case Competition was held on May 31, 2024, featuring seven teams who presented their business plans to a panel of judges. Students from across UCI’s campus were invited to participate in the competition.

“We had teams from the Paul Merage School, of course, but also from engineering, social sciences and others,” Coulson says. “We even had participation from a team from the Fulbright University of Vietnam in Ho Chi Minh City.”

In addition to competing for cash prizes, the event allowed students to interact with top executives in Orange County, including the competition sponsors and an impressive panel of judges. “One of the judges was the head of the Orange County Transit Authority,” says Coulson. “Another was one of the top executives at the Mayo Clinic.”


An Outstanding Variety of Approaches

Each team took a slightly different angle on their pitches, Coulson explains. “A few presentations went deep on a particular site and had detailed financial underwriting, while others discussed ways of implementing the technology aspect because that was a special request from the sponsors. Still others took a more broad-based approach. The winning team even took out a survey to determine what people’s preferences would be for modular housing, and they took into account those preferences in their presentation. They identified a large number of potential sites for this project and how to implement this in a more broad-based way.”


The Winners

The winning team, Team Verano, included four MBA students from the Merage School. “Our second place winner, REA Investment Management, was a team of undergrads who are interested in real estate,” says Coulson. “Third place, Smart Urban Champs, was another MBA group, and the technology prize winner—AI Merage Solutions—was also an MBA group.”

The winning team was awarded $5,000. Second place received $2,000. Third place won $1,000, and an additional $2,000 was awarded to the technology prize winner.

“The special part of this was the actual cash prizes and Mr. Jao’s promise to the students—not just to the winning teams but to all the teams—to engage with AI Accommodations to implement the plans they presented.”


Practical Uses for Modular Housing in Orange County

Affordable housing has become a huge challenge in Southern California. “A lot of people think modular housing is one of the ways we can alleviate this problem,” Coulson says. “Accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, are an easy application of this modular housing concept, but the students thought bigger. We need large-scale thinking to figure out how to get more affordable housing into people’s lives.”


Outstanding Results

“Overall I think it was a success,” says Coulson. “After the event was over, Mr. Jao and Mr. Nhu—head of NousLogic—both expressed great satisfaction with how everything worked out. We’re all very, very pleased.”

Although it’s too soon to talk about making this Case Competition an annual event, Coulson is open to the idea. “I have not heard of anything like it,” he says, “but I would welcome the opportunity to do it again. It was a really great event and the first time we’d done anything like this within the Center for Real Estate—and that was fantastic.”


Congratulations to the event’s winners!

First Prize
Team: Verano
Coach: Andrew Burt
Rohit Kulkarni
Paaras Saxena
Richa Singhal Saurabh
Ameya Thakur


Second Prize
Team: REA Investment Management
Coach: Joanne Lucas
Long Ma Paul
Timothy Cho
Christian Chai


Third Prize
Team: Smart Urban Champs
Coach: Jade Nguyen
Abigail Cooke
Brandon D’Angelo
Perla Rojas
Shohreh Bozorgmehri


Technology Prize
Team: AI Merage Solutions
Coach: Trevor Portiz
Samria Farahani
Golnar Hannah
Alyssa Enna
Samir Khanna



About The Paul Merage School of Business

The Paul Merage School of Business at UC Irvine offers four dynamic MBA programs – plus PhD, specialty masters and undergraduate business degrees – that prepare business leaders for our digitally driven world. Through our programs, students acquire the exceptional ability to grow their organizations through strategic innovation, analytical decision-making, digital information technology and collaborative execution. While the Merage School is relatively young, it has quickly grown to rank consistently among the top five percent of all business programs worldwide through exceptional student recruitment, world-class faculty, a strong alumni network and close relationships with both individual business executives and global corporations. Additional information is available at