Collaboration between the Wilbur O. and Ann Powers College of Business and Clemson Region’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) is lending a much-needed hand to South Carolina’s small businesses through a recently launched student research center.
The SBDC’s Student Consultant Center employs business school interns through the University Internship/Co-op (UPIC) Program to assist small business clients with research needs. The experiential learning opportunity for students will expand SBDC’s ability to provide its clients with business intelligence and market research services.
“The Small Business Development Center provides professional guidance to small business owners and the addition of the of the Student Consultant Center is going to benefit clients and student interns alike,” said Ezgi Ferrand, consultant center coordinator and lead market research specialist. “Through the consultant center, we are fulfilling a need of small businesses by harnessing the talents of business undergraduate and graduate students.”
Before moving to Clemson, Ferrand was an assistant professor in the State of Connecticut University System. She speaks with experience on small business’ need for market research and business intelligence. Before joining the Clemson SBDC team, she was founder and owner of the Sweet Spot Bake Shop that had locations in Clemson and Greenville.
“As an entrepreneur, I worked with the Small Business Development Center and experienced first-hand the need for research,” she said. “Thanks to the program, these students are providing much-needed market research help and are already reducing the waiting time for our clients’ research needs in the Upstate counties our office covers.”
The SBDC operates in a partnership and is partially funded under a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. Its mission is to advance South Carolina’s economic development by helping entrepreneurs grow successful businesses, which can range from new ventures to helping existing companies compete in a demanding market, and faltering companies to stay on course.
Ferrand supervises the five undergraduate and two graduate students, who undergo a four-week training program in market research and business intelligence report writing before working with the center’s clients. They come out with real-world experience in looking at a business holistically.
“Students are being exposed to a business in its entirety and learning how to put their research into practice,” Ferrand added. Working in teams of two, their research entails creating competitive intelligence reports, SWOT analyses, marketing strategies, and helping identify local market size and target markets for the clients.
“The students are providing professional-grade marketing research for our clients at no cost to the businesses. For a small company to get this kind of help from a research firm could cost up to $5,000,” Ferrand said. “The students have direct contact with the clients and work with SBDC consultants in making recommendations to the clients.”
David Raad, founder and owner of Six and Twenty Distillery in Powdersville, is one satisfied client of the students’ efforts. He said the material they provided his business and the ‘blind spots they uncovered’ demonstrated a depth of knowledge that wasn’t characteristic of entrepreneurs, let alone students.
“I was thoroughly impressed with their understanding and how their individual areas of focus fit into the larger effort of the business, a thing we sometimes struggle with in running a business,” he said. “To this business owner, it was a pleasure to work with the students, to see their enthusiasm for the insights they discovered, and really feel their sense of ‘ownership’ in the success of the effort.”
Student interns from management, finance, marketing and economics are appreciative of the experiential learning opportunity the Student Consultant Center is providing them.
“The internship has not only given me confidence in both my ideas and knowledge, but a greater sense of purpose as I see our hard work reflected in the real world,” said Madeline Mearns, a sophomore marketing and economics double major. “It’s not only taught me how to work better as an individual, as part of a team working on real-world issues.”
Added Allayah Simmons, a senior, management information systems major: “As an SBDC intern, I have been able to gain valuable work experience, explore a different career path and network with professionals in the field. It’s been a real benefit to my Clemson experience.”
Ferrand said even in its early stages, the Student Consultant Center has shown to be a win-win-win for the students, their clients and the SBDC consultants.
“The students are making a major contribution toward our efforts at helping businesses navigate their competitive marketplaces,” she said. “The knowledge they are gaining, and providing our clients and SBDC consultants, is bringing significant economic development benefits to the Upstate.”
Ben Smith, Clemson Area SBDC manager and consultant, concurred on the impact students are having on the center’s work with clients.
“Our new Student Consultant Center is by far the single most impactful initiative of my 22-year SBDC career,” Smith said. “Serving the entrepreneurs of South Carolina is my professional calling and enriching our students’ Clemson experience in the most meaningful way is above and beyond.”
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