A new business class at Portland State University is pairing senior business majors with local small businesses and non-profits to help solve their most pressing strategic challenges — for free.
The School of Business Administration is seeking more businesses and non-profit organizations to participate in the Senior Capstone: Business Strategy class, a new graduation requirement for business majors.
Since the class started last fall, students have worked with 25 clients, including The People's Republics T-shirt company; Supportland, a shopping incentive program for local stores; Micro Enterprise Services of Oregon (MESO), an economic development agency in North Portland; and the Rogue Hall restaurant on campus.
“The Capstone course allows our students an opportunity for community-based learning and community engagement, while benefitting the economic and social vitality of our region” said Darrell Brown, former associate dean for undergraduate programs, who helped start the new program.
Last fall, students helped MESO, a non-profit organization that offers management services to minority and low-income start-ups, determine that a neighborhood copy shop would not be a reliable revenue source. After analyzing the market, trends and costs, students recommended not starting the shop.
"The class helped me make the right decision for our non-profit," said Nita Shah, executive director of MESO. "They showed us the best-case scenario and the worst-case scenario, and even the best case was not enough for us to do it."
Shah plans to participate in the class again in the spring to research and develop other revenue sources for MESO, and she has urged her clients to seek help from the Capstone students as well.
In the class, students from a cross section of business majors — including accounting, marketing, finance, management/human resources and supply and logistics management — develop a business or strategic plan for clients who want to expand, market a new product, raise money or improve sales. Having students from multiple majors on the same team provides the client with diverse viewpoints that come together for a holistic analysis and realistic recommendations, as they do in a typical business. The students strive to find sustainable and ethically and socially responsible solutions to the business challenges.
"It's been really rewarding," said Melissa Appleyard, a PSU business professor who helped create the class. "We think the students really embrace the fact that they could make a difference in the client's future."
Jen Forti, who sells "The People's Republic of Portland" T-shirts in Powell's and other shops, came away with three business plans and a lot of advice for marketing and developing her apparel company, including expanding online sales at www.thepeoplesrepublics.com.
"I'm not a businessperson; I'm an artist," Forti said. "It was a really good learning experience. I have a roadmap now that I can follow."
All PSU students must complete a Senior Capstone community-based course that gives them the chance to apply what they've learned in the context of a real challenge in the community. U.S. News & World Report ranks PSU's Senior Capstone program among the top 10 in the country. PSU is highlighting students' impact in the community in a photo contest.
Businesses that are interested in participating in the course should contact Bill Jones, coordinator of the School of Business Administration's Undergraduate Capstone Program, 503-725-9992, firstname.lastname@example.org.