Elmhurst University MBA students recently gained unmatched business experience by strategizing with local entrepreneurs.
Linking the university’s MBA and E-celerator entrepreneurship programs, this initiative paired students and startups to move experiences “out of textbooks and into the hands of students,” says Elmhurst MBA Program Director Lawrence Brown, an assistant professor of business.
The 2021-22 pilot effort is expected to continue, said Brown, who created it in partnership with Entrepreneur-in-Residence Patrick Yanahan ’94, MBA ’10. Their goal was to expand Elmhurst University’s experiential learning opportunities and its ties to the community’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Also, Yanahan said, after two years of COVID-19 limitations, “we felt it was important to rebuild the bridge between what’s going on in the classroom and the private sector.”
Nine graduate students in the MBA program’s core marketing management class were randomly divided into groups to craft one-, three- and five-year marketing plans for three entrepreneurs. Previously, Brown said, students in the class scoured the internet for information to develop theoretical marketing strategies for companies such as Coca-Cola or Amazon.
This new twist on the project allowed students to draw connections between what they were learning in the classroom and their work with the entrepreneurs’ businesses. They capped their semester-long assignment with in-person presentations to the entrepreneurs who, Brown said, were “blown away.”
The students, Yanahan said, brought fresh eyes, analyses and ideas to the companies, with the resulting marketing plans delivering tips the businesses could use immediately.
“One entrepreneur said, ‘Hey, can I get that report tonight?’ ” Brown said.
The process was “a great experience,” said James Drury of La Grange Park-based Cornerstone-edu, which provides continuing education for auctioneers. Drury was one of the entrepreneurs, along with Mallory Burke ’22, who won first place in the 2021 E-celerator program’s Bluejay Tank Competition for GrillGirlz, her Evergreen Park-based barbecue grill deep-cleaning startup. The third entrepreneur was Ron Vari of the Burr Ridge-based Automotive Security Group.
Drury said he plans to put the students’ recommendations, particularly about social media and advertising, into action for Cornerstone-edu.