May 21, 2015
It’s graduation time, but students aren’t the only ones going to the next level. That’s because the University of Hartford’s Barney School of Business and Entrepreneurial Center have teamed up to give small businesses the help they need. Through a grant by Women’s Education and Legal Fund (WELFund), 7 local businesses, including three women-owned enterprises, were selected for a business consulting project.
Dr. Irina Naoumova, Associate Professor of Management at the University of Hartford, Barney School of Business and United Nations Economic Commission on Europe expert consultant on small and medium size company development, and Milena Erwin, the Entrepreneurial Center’s Women’s Business Center Program Manager collaborated on the grant. Naoumova developed the curricula in order to give students the chance to apply business theories by matching them with real-world enterprises. Businesses benefit because they gain a team of student consultants to support, challenge, and tweak their goals, as well as written recommendations without cost.
"I wanted the students to have a practical understanding of how business works, how quickly conditions change, and how competition in the marketplace affects decisions,” Naoumova said. "I believe the best way to get that kind of knowledge is by actually doing the work.“ Erwin added, "The Entrepreneurial Center welcomes this opportunity to provide our small business clients with guided consultative feedback from the student teams."
The work consisted of the 28 students working with in small groups assigned to a specific business. Following the classroom instruction and consultative guidelines provided by their instructor, students met with business owners, and in some cases their employees to collect data about all aspects of each company.
During the course of the semester they built on the initial data collection by continuing communication with the business owners to learn about new challenges and successes, and to report news of changing trends or market demands.
Business owner and participant Amy LaBossiere works with her husband Tao in the eponymously named venture, The Art of Tao LaBossiere, Inc. “We were extremely excited to be selected for the program. The students were quite serious about the work they were doing and we were so grateful to have a team of students thinking about our business challenges. The fresh perspective is welcomed, and we’re confident the suggestions we received are grounded in the business principles learned in the Entrepreneurship class,” she said.
Naoumova explained, "It’s what you’d call a “high impact practice”. This was not just an academic exercise, but a real-life case study where students can leave their fingerprint. They have to learn how to work in teams, how to manage a company, and what should be done to correct problems. In this process participants figure out how to organize meetings, deal with personnel issues, perform research, write the report and present the findings not only to their clients, but potential funders as well."
UHartt student Gladys Silva agreed that the course provided an integrated learning environment. "I loved the idea of working with real life situations and not just doing a project that really had no effect. Being able to consult and give insight to a business that may not see as we might, since we are outsiders looking in, was fascinating," she said.
According to Erwin, the program was a natural fit for everyone involved. “On a daily basis we deal with small business owners with big dreams. They come to the Entrepreneurial Center for help. In addition to the counseling we provide, we’re always looking for other resources that can add value.” Based on the success of the recent program, Erwin, a Certified Global Business Professional and import/export expert herself, hinted that adding a focus on exporting may be the next step. “Business owners need to keep all of their options open, and certainly exporting products and services broadens their market and can lead to growth. We’re here to help them explore their options.”
The University of Hartford’s Entrepreneurial Center provides hands-on coaching and business training for new and expanding small businesses, as well as aspiring entrepreneurs, throughout Connecticut. Part of the nationally-renowned Barney School of Business, the Center helps small business owners and employees to gain the business skills needed to succeed in the marketplace through business advising, technical assistance, educational programs, and networking events. For more information, visit www.hartford.edu/ec.