Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Duke MBA Students Offer Consulting Services to Small Businesses

MBA students at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business want to help small businesses and nonprofit organizations in Durham and the surrounding area that need consulting help but cannot afford to pay the typical fees of consulting agencies.

Through the Fuqua Small Business Consulting Program, MBA students get course credit for helping companies solve their business problems, and companies benefit from the students’ analyses and recommendations related to their business challenges.

Over the past 28 years, Fuqua students have assisted more than 300 local companies, nonprofits and municipal agencies through this consulting program. Past activities have included improving accounting systems; financial analysis; diagnosing management problems; inventory control; operations; information technology; improving company web pages and utilizing social media; marketing strategies; human resources; manufacturing; and raising money for nonprofits. In addition, the students have helped some small businesses expand their business overseas.

To be considered for the program, businesses must meet the following criteria:
  • Be in business for at least one year;
  • Be within a one-hour drive of Duke;
  • Have revenues exceeding $100,000 for the past business year; there may be some exceptions for nonprofits.
  • Management must be willing to provide financial data (two-year minimum) and operational data to the student consultants.
  • Management must be available to meet with the student team a minimum of five times during the course of the consulting engagement (October 2011 through April 2012);
  • Management will pay a $200 administrative fee if accepted into the consulting program.
Organizations that have participated recently include Raw Choice (health foods); Cameron & Cameron (moving and logistics); DynPro, Inc. (contract research);  Lulu Enterprises (publishing); PharmaDirections (drug development consulting);  Virtual Heroes (video game producer for Department of Defense training); Muddy Dog Roasting Company (coffee wholesaler); Progressive Business Solutions (printing); Dain’s Place Pub; and The King’s Daughters Inn (Bed and Breakfast).

“During this very challenging economic period, the insights of Fuqua’s students are particularly valuable to small businesses,” said Bill Sax, who begins his 25th year of teaching at Fuqua this fall. “Our students are eager to apply their classroom knowledge to real-world situations. Organizations benefit from the practical advice they receive from our students, who average five years’ business experience before entering The Duke MBA program.”

Nonprofit organizations are welcome in the program. Past participating nonprofits have included the Affordable Housing Coalition; the North Carolina Museum of Life and Science; the Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abuse (TROSA); Futures 4 Kids; North Carolina Justice and Community Development Center; Diabetes Management Solutions; Methodist Home for Children; Passage Home, and NC Biotech Center (supports entrepreneurial biotech firms).

The students select those clients that best match their experience, interests and abilities of the consulting teams. Once selected, business owners meet with the student team to discuss the problems to be addressed.

The students begin the consulting project in October and hold five or six meetings with the client through April.

Students must have access to the financial data of the company, regardless of the problems to be studied, Sax said. “Without complete financial information, it is like trying to decorate a house in the dark,” he said.

Sax regularly reviews the students’ progress until they successfully complete the project with a formal oral and written presentation for the client. Every student signs a letter of confidentiality before the consulting engagement begins.
Fuqua is now accepting applications for the fall 2011 consulting program. The application deadline is Aug. 31.

Information about the program is available by emailing here, and the application, brochure and overview are available online .

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