SC SBDC Launches Student Consultant Program
In collaboration with the Wilber O. and Ann Powers College of Business at Clemson University, the SC SBDC’s Clemson Region has launched a student research center that employs business school interns to assist small business clients with research needs. This experiential learning opportunity offered to students through the University’s Internship/Co-op (UPIC) Program expands the SC SBDC’s ability to provide clients with much-needed business intelligence and market research services.
“The addition of the Student Consultant Center benefits clients and student interns alike,” said Ezgi (Izzy) Ferrand, consultant center coordinator and lead market research specialist for the SC SBDC’s Clemson Region. “By harnessing the talents of business undergraduate and graduate students, we will be able to provide no-fee, in-depth market research to small businesses that otherwise would have to pay a significant sum for comparable services.”
According to Clemson Region Director Jill Kesler McCollum, these students not only are accelerating the pace at which her team can provide clients professional-caliber competitive intelligence reports, SWOT analyses and marketing strategies, but they also enable consultants to better invest the time they spend advising clients.
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.
“Our new Student Consultant Center is by far the single most impactful initiative of my 22-year SBDC career,” said Ben Smith, Clemson Area SBDC manager and consultant. “Serving the entrepreneurs of South Carolina is my professional calling and enriching our students’ experience in the most meaningful way is above and beyond.”
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 appreciate the experiential learning opportunity the Student Consultant Center provides 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.”
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.”