Growing your business by tapping the brain trust at your local business school

  • February 2, 2012

Why let a lack of staff or resources curtail your expansion plans, when the expertise you need to develop new markets is just around the corner. Business school students have the ability to conduct research, assess opportunities and develop comprehensive marketing plans, and since they’re supervised by faculty, you don’t have to spend a fortune to tap some great business minds.

“You don’t have to hire additional staff or expensive consultants to solve business problems, when students and faculty are capable of doing the work for a fraction of the cost,” says Dr. Terri Swartz, dean and professor of Marketing for the College of Business and Economics at California State University, East Bay.

“Instead of shifting projects to the back burner, tackle them by leveraging the resources at your local B-school,” says Luanne Meyer, director of the Business Opportunity Program at California State University, East Bay.

Smart Business spoke with Swartz and Meyer about the advantages of developing a partnership with a local business school.

Why should executives consider partnering with a local business school?

Swartz: Student projects provide companies with the opportunity to develop the work force of the future and evaluate prospective employees, without incurring the managerial responsibilities and costs of a formal internship program. We help company representatives scope out the project, while course professors guide and supervise the undergraduate and graduate students during the assignment. The concept is similar to the tried and true programs used in teaching hospitals and dental schools, where students gain hands-on experience under the close supervision of faculty experts.

Meyer: Busy executives like the fact that they have access to our faculty brain trust, so they can hear about the latest marketing trends or consider another solution to a challenging problem.

How do student projects benefit all parties?

Swartz: Class projects give business students the chance to augment their classroom studies through experiential education, so they hit the ground running when it’s time to enter the job market. At the same time, the Business Opportunity Program gives the university the chance to partner with local businesses, share faculty expertise and give back to the community.

Meyer: Companies have limited time and resources, so it can be difficult to source the right interns or freelancers and shepherd them through a complex project. But the program office does the legwork by evaluating your needs and connecting you with a faculty adviser who has the right experience and knowledge to manage your project.

Are some projects more appropriate for students than others?

Swartz: The students work on pricing and positioning projects, product launches, opportunity analyses and marketing communications plans and they even find solutions to human resources or supply chain issues. Projects typically last from two to nine weeks and are often divided into phases, so client partners can monitor the team’s progress. For example, our students have developed recruiting strategies for the FBI and helped Lawrence Livermore Labs develop a plan to commercialize one of its licensed technologies.

Meyer: Many projects involve the development of new revenue streams for companies in both the non-profit and for-profit sectors, and through our entrepreneurial studies program, we often help small businesses find innovative ways to expand. For example, we are currently helping a small detergent manufacturer reposition its product for the Latino market by designing new packaging, creating a new message and developing a comprehensive marketing campaign. We can help companies use social media to reach new customers, develop a marketing database or lower costs by utilizing cutting edge technology. In fact, our students can even lower the cost of using a major consulting firm for marketing projects by conducting some of the background research or designing a portion of the program.

How can companies work with B-schools to develop talent pipelines?

Meyer: Client partners have numerous opportunities to interact with the students during a project, which gives them a chance to assess their capabilities and gauge their interest in future employment. For example, a company representative usually addresses the class before each project in order to provide background on the company and articulate its objectives. In turn, students prepare a proposal, map out the specific milestones and timeline and state the need for client support and involvement during the project.

Swartz: The professors align students with projects that match their interests and talents, which increases the chance that the parties will end up working together in the future.

What’s the best way to initiate a mutually beneficial relationship?

Meyer: At CSU, businesses can simply contact the Business Opportunity Program office to initiate a dialogue and assess whether we can meet each other’s needs. We typically need a few weeks’ lead time to scope out a project and get it on the schedule before the start of the quarter.

Swartz: We ask our client partners to cover nominal expenses like office supplies or occasional meals and transportation costs for the students, and we certainly appreciate reasonable donations. But all in all, student projects are a great value when you consider that you’re gaining access to our faculty brain trust and discovering a future star performer during the process.

Dr. Terri Swartz is the dean and professor of Marketing for the College of Business and Economics at California State University, East Bay. Reach her at (510) 885-3291 or terri.swartz@csueastbay.edu. Luanne Meyer is director of the Business Opportunity Program at California State University, East Bay, www.csueastbay.edu/businessopportunityprogram. Reach her at (510) 885-7135 or luanne.meyer@csueastbay.edu.

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