Smells Like Student Spirit
In different blog posts I’ve tried to point out a few of the assets we have in Kent — the Cuyahoga river, an authentic downtown,a legacy of a live music, top-notch public schools, an edgy arts and culture scene, intimate events and festivals, proximity to the Akron and Cleveland, and of course, Kent State University.
I’ve noted that Kent State is the largest employer in Kent; it’s the biggest attraction in town (in terms of the people and dollars it brings to our economy); it’s name recognition is world-wide (you can’t pay for that kind of advertising); and it produces thousands of prospective new business owners every year many of whom choose to get started right here in Kent.
Despite all this talk of the importance of Kent State — which most people agree with — we still tend to talk about “students” in the third person — usually prejoratively after there’s been some late night problem. But the students, like any demographically defined group of people, are more than the sum of their parts — they are individuals full of dreams, aspirations and hopes for their future. And they are willing to work hard to make that future happen. Maybe it’s time we tap into that student spirit and get it working for Kent’s future.
Businesses, non-profits and cities all over this country have been tapping into students for years and it’s time to get that bandwagon rolling here in Kent. I’m not talking about tapping the typical buying and spending power of students (although that’s a force to be reckoned with as well), what I’m talking about is tapping into the brainpower (and horsepower) of students in what amounts to “student consulting” services. In academic circles it’s called “service” or “experience based learning” — businesses call it internships — but I call it a great deal for everyone involved.
Students get a chance to tackle real world problems that become the centerpiece of their resumes and local businesses frankly get cheap labor. But there’s more to it than that. It’s about the connections it builds between the students and the local community. It’s a chance for students to walk in the shoes of local businesses and for local businesses to put a name and a face to that amorphous blob we call students. It’s in those real person opportunities that we build new perspectives and appreciation for one another.
More face time won’t make all the late night nuissances go away but over time if we can change the way we (the amorphous blob called community) see them (the amorphous blob of students) and change the way they see us, behavior changes are bound to follow — not because of stricter penalties or more police — but because we come to realize that we share a place that has plenty of room for all of us. As long as we’re here together doesn’t it make more sense to work together to make Kent a great place for all of us. In the end isn’t that what we all want?
This is about finding commonalities in shared purposes. For the university, it’s all about retention of students. Studies show that the more connected a student feels and the broader the experience a student gains during their years on campus the more likely they will stay. For the city it’s all about retention too. It’s retaining those students to choose to live and work in Kent after they graduate.
What started me on this whole kick was an article I read recently that talked about how traditionally stodgy businesses are actively reaching out to tap into the creative insights of inexperienced youth. These companies were finding that creativity loses its freshness after years of corporate education so they wanted a bunch of greenhorn students giving them advice. And guess what — it worked.
And when things work, I immediately want to steal — I mean adapt — the idea to Kent. Here’s a few examples to chew on:
From FastCompany Magazine, July/August 2006
When Hasbro wanted a hand lifting its decades-old My Little Pony toy line out of the realm of kitsch last year, it turned to a tiny Brooklyn, New York, creative agency called Thunderdog Studios. The result: a New York gallery show full of Ponies, each uniquely decorated by a different woman artist.
Now, that was cool. Which is exactly what Hasbro was after. The question: Why did a $3 billion toy giant with 6,000 employees need the help? Even Thunderdog, now preparing to freshen up the toy giant’s Transformers line, is at a loss, sort of. “We’re all very young. When we’re in the boardroom, we feel like, ‘What are we doing here?'” admits president Tristan Eaton. “We’re waiting for them to realize we’re just a bunch of kids.”
We should’ve seen this coming. For decades, business pundits (and, okay, we) have lauded the merits of lean, flexible organizations: Embrace the activities that truly add value; jettison everything else. And companies have done so, outsourcing their IT departments, human resources, copy shops, even manufacturing and distribution.
But this is something different, and more sinister. Companies are outsourcing cool. They’re paying other companies–smaller, more-limber, closer-to-the-ground outsiders–to help them keep up with customers’ rapidly changing tastes and demands. Talk about a core competency! It’s like farming out your soul–or at least, asking someone what you should wear in the morning.
It’s happening because technology allows ever shorter design and manufacturing cycles–in turn forcing more-fleeting half-lives for anything deemed “cool.” So our friends at Time Inc.’s Fortune have hired hipster ad shop Strawberry-Frog “to contribute some strategy on how to best position the Fortune brand,” according to The New York Times. A magazine spokeswoman says it’s a “small research project.” (Fortune to StrawberryFrog: “Honey, should I wear the gray suit or the brown suit today?”) Mitsubishi Motors recently did the same.
“We surround them and give them a hug; it’s a process we call ‘total engagement,'” says StrawberryFrog president Scott Goodson. It’s not clear how literal he’s being about the hug. “When we started [at Mitsubishi], they had dissatisfied dealers, apathy in the organization, no sense of spirit. The mission we came up with was to fight boredom. It was a movement to make a more dynamic organization.” (StrawberryFrog to Mitsubishi: “Oh, dear, don’t wear that old thing again.”)
There’s something ageless about this: One generation has looked to the next for advice on cool for as long as there have been out-of-it parents. But seeking advice is one thing; letting an outsider set your agenda is another. Doing so forfeits control of your brand to someone who doesn’t own it; it turns you from a creator into a distributor, which is a pretty low-value activity to base a business on. Martin Lindstrom, whose 25-person consulting firm, Brandsense, helps 11 of the world’s 100 largest companies keep their brands cool, says, “I’m surprised when they come to us, because they should have structures built in to inform and shape their brand in those fundamental ways.”
They don’t because staying cool is difficult work. It requires constantly scanning the horizon and taking gambles. And that’s scary. “People in huge corporations are afraid of being fired,” says Lindstrom. “They don’t dare take those risks anymore. The only way they can get a mandate to do this is by taking the risk outside of the company.”
The question: Can big companies find their inner Thunderdog? Can they create internal structures and processes that let them recognize, and embrace, cool on their own? Some already have. Procter & Gamble’s Tremor is an in-house “word-of-mouth marketing” division that continually tests new ideas and products (80% of them for non-P&G clients) with a network of 220,000 teens. And in April, P&G launched Vocalpoint, intended to do the same thing with a universe of 600,000 mothers.
“I’m surprised when they come to us. They should have structures built in to inform and shape their brand.”
To get closer to customers and speed the feedback loop, Samsung’s U.S. marketers established relationships with some 1,500 Web sites that serve its target markets, from fly-fishing sites to the home pages of rock bands. When designers in Korea give the word that a new product is on the way–often with only a few months’ warning–marketing puts out the word through its network. Presto! Instant product launch.
It’s a promising approach to the challenge of keeping up with one’s customers. Cool, even. So, your choice: Farm out what most makes you distinctive to a bunch of kids in Brooklyn–or do the hard work of figuring it out yourself.
University City Models
USC Marshall School
Each semester, the Student Consulting Association gives its members the opportunity to work with a team of USC students to learn about consulting by helping a client solve a problem. In the past, the Program’s consulting teams have helped small businesses and non-profits with product development, business plan writing, and market research tasks.
These projects are valuable opportunities for motivated students to accelerate their intellectual and professional development and to become better-equipped to make the difficult career decisions they will face when they graduate. Also, by helping local businesses and non-profits, the Consulting Projects Program allows USC students to contribute to the development of the school’s surrounding community.
The objective of the Student Consulting Program is to help students determine if they want to pursue a consulting career and to help them build the knowledge and capabilities they need to be a strong candidate for a consulting job. The program does this by providing students with real-world experience helping a client solve a business problem.
Duke Fuqua Student Consulting Program
The goal of these programs is to provide businesses and students the opportunity to work together solving real-life business challenges. About 800 daytime students attend Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, who on the average have worked (5+) years since receiving their undergraduate degree before coming to Duke. The expertise from this pool of talent, combined with the resources of Duke, allows the Student Consulting Program to provide consultation in most functional areas. The list includes, but is not limited to, the following:
- Management Information Systems
- Financial Planning and Control
- Risk Analysis
- Inventory Control
- Accounting Systems/ Business Ratios
- Human Resources
- Strategic Planning
- Production Scheduling
- Growth Management
Duke offers a variety of programs based on your company’s needs:
The Fuqua Student Consulting Program (FSCP) offers confidential business assistance to qualified local companies. This program is specifically designed for small companies in the Triangle Area which do not have the resources to perform or pay for these services.
The Minority Business Consulting Program (MBCP) offers confidential business services to qualified local ethnic minority-owned companies. This program is specifically designed for small companies in the Triangle Area which do not have the resources to perform or pay for these services. The program is supported by The Fuqua School of Business and the North Carolina Institute for Minority Economic Development and funded by corporate grants.
The FCSP offers consulting help to nonprofit organizations. Each year about 20 percent of the Small Business Consulting Program is composed of nonprofit organizations. Nonprofit organizations should use the same applications as the small business applicants.
At the conclusion of this two term course, the firm receives a strategic plan with an objective overview of the company along with plans and strategies for the future. The end product will be a complete written strategic business plan and a formal presentation to the company at the end of the course.
The report will include:
- background of company
- analysis of industry (environment)
- identify principal competitors
- size of market
- growth potential of market
- implementation plan
|Owen students—from full-time MBA to MS Finance to Executive MBA—bring years of valuable work experience to the table. In conjunction with faculty advisors, Owen students offer consulting capabilities and the strategic skills to address your business challenges.
There are three ways to engage a Vanderbilt Owen consulting team:
University of Iowa
The University of Iowa believes in providing undergraduate and graduate students with real-world learning experiences through the entrepreneurship program. During the fall and spring semesters, interdisciplinary student teams are formed to complete advanced business projects for aspiring entrepreneurs and early-stage companies in the region. These projects typically include market assessments of new technology products or services, strategic planning, financial forecasting, and business planning. This initiative provides a valuable educational opportunity to UI entrepreneurship students while offering area companies quality business consulting services.
The Duquesne University School of Business offers a Business Consulting course in which students act as consultants to assist regional small businesses with various issues for one semester. This unique program is designed to promote entrepreneurship in Western Pennsylvania by matching the company’s business consulting needs with the business development skills of Duquesne University business students.
BUSINESS SOLUTIONS FROM DUQUESNE BUSINESS STUDENTS
Mary T. McKinney, Ph.D., Director,
Duquesne University Chrysler Corp. Small Business Development Center
HOW DOES IT WORK?
- Students select cases – all are not selected but SBDC assistance is available
- Formulate the business issues with the CEO/Senior Executive
- With frequent client/professor interaction:
- Develop the methodology
- Conduct the necessary research, and analysis, and draw conclusions
- Deliver the recommendations in a final report and presentation to client/professor.
A student or student team can provide the assistance necessary to position small businesses as key players in today’s competitive environment. The program has proven effective in helping small businesses identify and solve managerial problems, in addition to improving the operations of the businesses. The solutions provided by the students offer new and innovative ideas to help businesses grow.
The Community Consulting Institute is a student-based consulting program managed by the Coleman Entrepreneurship Center, and administered by faculty through entrepreneurship courses. Student teams are matched with clients that are small businesses or community organizations facing a particular strategic challenge (i.e.: how to increase sales, improve profitability, hire the right staff, analyze the competition, etc.).
During a 10-week academic quarter, students engage in client meetings, market research, strategy formulation, and team workshops. The end result is a deliverable that helps address, analyze, and offer potential solutions for the client’s strategic challenge. Examples of deliverables include a feasibility study, marketing plan, strategic assessment, or market study.
In their final MBA course students are required to participate in a Consulting Project that allows them to apply what they have learned to an actual business problem or opportunity. Students work in teams of 3-5 students with managers and/or owners of local organizations. The Consulting Projects include written and oral presentations to business sponsors.
Some of the organizations that benefited from participating in a Consulting Project with the School of Global Management & Leadership MBA team projects are:
Thank you for your interest in working with the Tuck Student Consulting Services (TSCS). TSCS is a student-run organization at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth that organizes graduate business students to volunteer their time to help local businesses and non-profit initiatives with consulting projects.
The city is trying to do its part. I’ve done a bunch of student class projects and I had an intern last semester and interviewed another one this week for this semester. Everywhere I can I’m looking for opportunities to put students to work for the city and guess what — they’re looking for the exact same thing. So get on board before this train leaves you and your business behind.