Business Clients Put UNT Student Consultants to the Test

student consultants

CLASS ALLOWS STUDENTS TO WORK ON REAL-LIFE BUSINESS PROBLEMS


The idea came to Michael Ingle at 3 a.m. as he lay on his bare mattress waiting for his sheets to dry after a late night of laundry.

Consumed with thoughts of invisible filth — mattresses can contain more than 100,000 dust mites and bed bugs can live for months without feeding — Ingle turned the problem with no solution into a 15-minute mattress sanitizing company dubbed Clean Sleep.

He eventually pitched his idea to investors on the reality TV show, Shark Tank. The business tycoons on the show liked the concept, but criticized the Flower Mound-based company for its lack of focus.

That’s when Ingle turned to University of North Texas students.

In a class taught through UNT’s College of Business, students are divvied into teams that create inventive solutions to problems faced by businesses such as Clean Sleep.

Each semester the class — one of many at UNT designed to give students hands-on career experience — brings in a new crop of students to work for business clients and produce in-depth strategic plans that help companies tackle daunting problems.

The clients, many of them repeats, include big-name firms like AT&T and Chili’s Grill & Bar, large nonprofits like Big Brothers Big Sisters, and smaller, entrepreneurial startups like Clean Sleep. Our students provide these corporate clients with strong business blueprints complete with marketing metrics, industry comparisons, break-even analysis, and income statements that help with launching a new product, branding a name change, increasing market share, and other challenges.

For Ingle, who set a goal for Clean Sleep to ultimately clean mattresses worldwide, one problem was central — Ingle needed help determining the markets with the most lucrative potential. Turning to UNT enabled him to get individual analyses of a number of sectors such as hospitals, hotels, college campuses, and lodging facilities from which he could start with and later expand. Think of Amazon.com, which began as an online bookstore, but has become an economic powerhouse for the entire retail sector.

In turn, the students become equipped with essential on-the-job training that often makes them sought after in the job market — a key point for new college graduates, who are expected to be workforce ready from day one.

Last fall, for example, our marketing students developed a plan for Shannon’s Brewery in Keller to penetrate the retail market and expand its distribution of craft beers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Teams spent weeks researching forecasting data, creating concepts for promotional campaigns, examining potential retailers to sell the product, providing cost and revenue analysis and generating tactics to implement these marketing plans. In the process, students became intimately familiar with the operations of a startup, and the company successfully moved into the retail sector.

Case studies like these are a time-tested tool that gives students strong experiences and essentially puts their classroom learning to the test.

STUDENT CONSULTANTS RECEIVE PERSONALIZED GUIDANCE

But what makes UNT unique is the approach.

First, clients are real. Hypothetical problems and discrete cases from books are great for learning, but students also need to try classroom skills out on actual corporate issues to become successful business leaders and entrepreneurs. All of the students in this class are at the graduate level or upperclassmen with the academic knowledge needed to serve as consultants — all they need are authentic opportunities to test their knowledge.

In other words, the students know what to do, they just need real-life experiences to test their skills.

Second, the course features regular meetings with us, the faculty instructors, as well as live boardroom-type briefings and presentations with C-level executives and guest lectures from active consultants, and industry professionals.

This personalized guidance is a hallmark of the class and helps groups refine their proposals in a way that only customized learning can. At some point, every team needs this.

For instance, a team this spring investigating Clean Sleep’s potential for government contracts spent valuable time searching for surveys to identify prospective customers. With our expertise, we knew that surveys would be inappropriate for these circumstances. We directed students to the government website, usa.gov, which quickly provided the needed data. This shift helped students zero in on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ vast hospital network and got their proposal back on track.

These kinds of genuine experiences, combined with targeted guidance, are at the heart of the business model for UNT New College at Frisco, an off-site instructional facility. The Collin County location is a prime learning lab that puts students at the core of one of the North Texas region’s most engaged business centers and continues UNT’s tradition of practical learning excellence.

It’s a structure that transforms the classroom into a business-like setting and one more sign that when it comes to educating students to become rising stars in their fields, UNT means business.

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Michael Gade

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Kenneth Thompson

The course is taught by Michael Gade and Kenneth Thompson at the University of North Texas.

Michael Gade is a principal lecturer of marketing at the University of North Texas, and Kenneth Thompson is a professor of marketing at UNT, one of the nation’s largest public research universities.


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