Hurt by Pandemic? CSUN Students May Help By Mark Madler, San Fernando Valley Business Journal
Students at the David Nazarian College of Business and Economics at California State University – Northridge are forming teams to assist small businesses dealing with the economic fallout of the coronavirus outbreak. The undergraduate and MBA students are members of the Nazarian College Small Business Consulting Program.
The graduate student portion of the project recently received $50,000 from the Wells Fargo Foundation to support the students and faculty who are assisting small businesses in the San Fernando Valley. The undergraduate side of the program gets financial support from the Wurwand Foundation and Found/LA, an initiative of the foundation that supports entrepreneurs in Los Angeles.
Kristen Walker, director of the MBA consulting program and a marketing professor at CSUN, said the program's goal has always been to help local businesses develop plans for success.
"The MBA Consulting project in particular is well suited to deal with the kinds of travesties that businesses have faced based on the pandemic and the competitive issues involved with the environmental challenges," Walker said. "This is an especially critical time for small business owners," said Chandra Subramaniam, dean of the Nazarian college. "The pandemic has forced them to find new and innovative ways to survive these difficult times and remain relevant to consumers."
He said the students provide new perspectives and help develop solutions so businesses can quickly pivot and remain successful. "Our students are gaining real-world experience while giving back to the community, which aligns with the ethos and mission of the college," he said.
Students began working virtually with clients in August to discuss client goals and finances and determine the scope of the work. Following the initial interview, students will delve into the challenges identified by the business owners and develop solutions.
To be eligible, businesses must have annual revenue of at least $100,000 and at least two years of financial statements to share with the student consultants.
The consulting program is working with several partners including the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, the Valley Economic Alliance and the offices of city council members Bob Blumenfield and John Lee.
Itzamar Jimenez is a spring graduate of the MBA program who did the consulting project in the middle of the pandemic.
Jimenez was on a team of four students who worked with Marc Bartholomew, the founder and chief executive of Integritechs, a Sherman Oaks managed services provider. Bartholomew was always ready to provide the necessary information, particularly financial data, that the team needed, Jimenez said.
COVID-19 made things more difficult for the team as halfway through the semester the school went on a lockdown. But they were determined they were not going to let Bartholomew and his business down, Jimenez added.
"It made the marketing aspect of the consulting paper difficult because we had to conduct interviews and send out a questionnaire," she continued. "We pushed through and we were able to conduct interviews over the phone. It was a great example of how business works, and when you have bumps on the road you need to rise up."
Bartholomew compared the final presentation put together by the students as being like a business strategy review of sorts. The final presentation and one or two other meetings were done by video conference provided by Zoom Video Communications Inc., in San Jose.
Bartholomew said he enjoyed the experience. A big part of that was how the team looked at industry trends and did a market analysis on his firm's competitors, he said. "There were things that I knew and things I didn't know," Bartholomew added. "The value was some combination of reaffirming what I knew and providing more valuable information."
Walker described the program as being one in which there is a win-win for both the client and the students in terms of their academic and practical experience.
The consulting project is the last course the MBA students take in the program.
"So they are completing the MBA degree and are using all their knowledge and applying it to help the community of business," Walker said.
There is no cost to the businesses to take part in the program other than taking the time to meet and talk with the students and help them with their questions.
There is a minimum of three meetings between the students and the business owner – an introductory meeting, a follow up and then the final presentation to the client, Walker said.
"In my experience, the clients always are surprised, impressed and grateful," Walker added. "I like that part of it. For me it is a matter of seeing the win-win come together."
Silvina Bamrungpong, director of the business honors program, the undergraduate side of the consulting program, said in an emailed statement that students in the program have provided consulting support to more than 60 local businesses since 2013.
"The students' commitment to the clients, professionalism, and passion for the project is evident in the value of the analysis and recommendations provided to those clients," Bamrungpong said in her statement. "Students understand that this is an opportunity to make a vital contribution to the client's livelihood and long-term success."