Student Consulting Program – student perspective

Guest post by Rai Huang, Foster undergraduate

BEDC Student Consulting ProgramI initially enrolled in the BEDC Student Consulting Program without really understanding what consulting means; my impression was that consulting is the dream job of many of my peers at the Foster School of Business, yet it wasn’t something I particularly cared for.

I expected to walk away from the class with experience in conducting market research and formulating online marketing/public relations strategies, which is related to my dream career after graduation. And I liked the idea of working with a team; the communication skills learned would prepare me for work in any field. The fact that it would look good on my resume didn’t hurt either.

My team’s assignment is to formulate online marketing and social media strategies for our client, Concourse Concessions, who currently operates a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf franchise in the Seattle-Tacoma Airport. A newcomer in the Seattle market, they wish to grow brand recognition through traditional and non-traditional public relations methods as they expand to locations outside of the airport within the next year. It was an exciting task to take on, as the overall business environment and market for coffee in Seattle is very saturated, and would require creative thinking to accomplish the mission.

The first step for our team was to identify the strategy and comparative advantage of the franchise.  Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf has only been in operations for about three months, and there was lack of substantial data for us to analyze. Challenged by our advisers and mentors, we were able to take a step back and look at the project from a wider perspective. We learned to think in terms of what is most valuable for the client every step of the way. With the support of our mentor and advisors, we came up with a framework in which every question raised had to be answered in a way that would help the business.

During the research phase of the project we gathered survey data and took a close look at local competitors such as Peet’s Coffee and Tea, Uptown Espresso, Espresso Vivace and Café Vita. We examined how they are utilizing social media and promotion strategies to maximize brand equity. Marketing concepts we’ve seen play out in real life include: how social media is being utilized for Customer Relation Management; how Search Engine Optimization is becoming increasingly intertwined with social media; why it’s essential for all business owners and managers to understand the marketing concept; how to really use a business’ competitive advantage; and how to communicate through interaction with the consumers.

As we come near to the end of the project, I now understand what consulting really comes down to is communication. It is important to practice the art of listening to your client and really hearing their needs, and finding resources and formulating recommendations with your team to create value for them. Through the process of tackling the different obstacles, my team and I have bonded together and grown both professionally and personally.

I look forward to applying the skills I’ve learned to a future career in Public Relations. I now understand what it is like to work with a real client, how to identify their wants and needs, and strategically come up with solutions that would benefit the client and heighten awareness of the brand. The Student Consulting experience is not just a line on my resume, but truly a real-world experience I was fortunate to have as an undergraduate student.

Learn more or become involved in the Student Consulting Program as a client or volunteer advisor.

BEDC grad students provide consulting for Ketchikan Indian community

BEDC Alaska MBA StudentsThe BEDC is again working to support small business growth in Southeast Alaska. A team of four UW Foster MBA students has spent winter quarter working with the Ketchikan Indian Community in an effort to grow local business and tribally-owned enterprises. The students taught entrepreneurship classes over the Martin Luther King Holiday weekend for 30 current and aspiring business owners. Ketchikan, the southernmost city in Alaska, has an economy based on tourism and fishing; and many of the new business ideas will cater to tourists from cruise ships or independent tourists.

Since the entrepreneurship classes, the MBA students have been working with outdoor adventure, culinary training, historic tourism, clothing retailer, and construction companies.

MBA student Jennifer Yanni believes she learned as much or more as her clients did “I had never written a business plan before so this gave me some real-world experience to put on my resume. It also helped me think about how you sell new ideas to an existing market.”

This is the 15th project that the BEDC has completed for a Native American Tribe or Alaska Native Corporation and we’re already looking for our next projects. If you know of a tribe that would like a MBA team please contact Michael Verchot.