MBA Students Can Help Spice Up Your Startup's Special Sauce

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Neal McTighe needed help analyzing and building his budding business, Nello’s Sauce. As an adjunct professor of Italian at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C., he called on a colleague to provide him with a valuable resource: MBA students. I was happy to send him willing volunteers enrolled in my summer business-consulting elective course.

McTighe described the various challenges and opportunities he faced and members of my class split themselves into teams based on their background and interest. Over six weeks, these teams analyzed his sales and distribution data, researched the pasta sauce industry, looked for prospective distributors and collaborators and developed recommendations to help him move his company forward. 

Other company owners seeking help in growing a business should consider tapping MBA students as consultants.

MBA students can provide a company the following:

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1. Varied backgrounds and experiences to help a company with its challenges. The MBA students in my class had backgrounds in marketing, social media, QuickBooks and global trade -- all areas that McTighe needed help with. The students ended up doing projects that will be immediately beneficial to Nello's sauce. McTighe knows sauce, but now he has acquired other assets important to grow a business.

2. Research assistance to help an entrepreneur dig into areas not yet probed. When a person is running a small company, his or her focus is often on immediate sales, not the long-term research and networking that could net insights or resources to help the company grow. After all, it's hard to focus on the big picture, while making and delivering the sauce. 

Even in a short six-week summer elective, these MBAs researched other companies and industry reports and found resources that McTighe, a solo entrepreneur, had not yet unearthed. 

3. Fresh eyes to help a business owner analyze old challenges. Sometimes, a fresh objective perspective can be an immense help. The MBA students pushed McTighe to find new ways to partner with other businesses to showcase his sauce and experiment with new recipes.

Related: Don't Pay a Consultant Before Chatting With Your Vendor

In return in exchange for their work in analyzing the enterprise and seeking out for new avenues for growth, the students gained the following:

1. Finding out about the business of consulting. My MBA students took my class to learn about consulting as a prospective career. They interviewed other consultants and read books and articles. But the best way to learn about consulting is simply to do it.

These students got a taste of consulting with the Nello’s Sauce project. They learned that consulting is not limited to developing a great idea but might involve setting up accounting systems using QuickBook to ensure that employees are paid and customers are invoiced properly.

2. Learning about the joys and pitfalls of starting a new business. By hearing directly from McTighe and working with him over a six-week period, my MBA students had a firsthand look at what it takes to start a business. They now have a new appreciation for how hard it is to be an entrepreneur and all the issues a business owner must juggle.

McTighe had experimented with marketing and social media but wasn't sure how much time to spend on it for a return on his investment. The MBA students developed a marketing and social media plan for Nello's Sauce, helping McTighe prioritize how and where to spend his time. The team convinced him to use the treasure trove of photos stored on his phone through Instagram, so that prospective customers could almost taste the sauce after seeing it.

3. Figuring out which skills and talents they should offer. When these students started my course, they were not sure what they could do as consultants. By the last class, they were confidently presenting McTighe recommendations, even offering to follow up with him after the course concluded. 

Two groups researched distributors for McTighe. They interviewed professionals involved in the supply chain, analyzed their offerings and provided suggestions for him to move ahead.

One student with significant knowledge of North Carolina offered to introduce McTighe to many contacts. He insisted on going to meetings with McTighe -- to be sure that he would make the time to forge new connections.

The result was a win-win on all sides. McTighe received valuable consulting work at no cost and the students obtained course credit and gained considerable practical experience.

Related: Avoid These 3 Pitfalls When Opening a Consulting Business

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