BY CHRIS PETERSON
The Carlson School’s Enterprise Programs epitomize experiential learning. The four programs—Brand, Consulting, Enterprise, and Ventures—allow MBA and select undergraduate students to address real-world challenges with highly demanding real-world clients. The results are quite often remarkable. Students put theories into action, function in self-directed teams, and gain practical business sector experience. Clients are consistently surprised by the students’ professionalism—and the results they produce.With that in mind, let’s take a look at some highlights from each of the four programs over the last year.
In the last 12 months, the Carlson Brand Enterprise completed 18 projects, all of which focused on the strategic and analytical components of brand and marketing strategy consulting. Clients included General Mills; 3M; McDonald’s; and CAT Paving, a Brooklyn Park, Minn.-based division of global machinery manufacturer Caterpillar Inc.
CAT, a supplier of pavers, soil compactors, cold planers, and similar equipment, approached the Brand Enterprise to help identify ways to improve its global marketing planning. The Enterprise team first conducted an audit of CAT’s global marketing, interviewing dealers, territory managers, and sales consultants in such far-flung locales as Singapore, France, and Brazil. Armed with that information, they researched best practices and learning points from other Caterpillar business units, competitors, and different industries. The result: recommendations for how CAT could refine its marketing communications.
“The opportunity to work with CAT Paving was unique,” says second-year MBA student Anne Love. “It was an incredible opportunity to work with a company that is truly global and to understand how marketing communications has to work on that scale.”
CAT Paving was equally impressed. Based on the team’s work, the company extended the project to allow the students to assess marketing’s role in new product introductions.
Brand Enterprise Managing Director Dave Hopkins notes that these results are not unusual. “Students do high-level, sophisticated work and get exposure to senior corporate leaders—something that typically doesn’t happen until much later in their careers,” he says. “We also provide real value to clients, and often leverage cutting-edge faculty research. And our fees are usually 10 to 30 times less than what a consulting firm would provide for the same work.”
Like the Brand Enterprise, the Consulting Enterprise provides education opportunities that extend beyond the classroom. Students work on classic consulting projects—business planning, financial management, organizational design, product introductions, and the like. A recent project for the State of Minnesota provides insight into the results they can deliver.
The Minnesota Trade Office engaged the Enterprise to examine how to take advantage of the federal government’s EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program. In a nutshell, EB-5 is designed to stimulate job creation and capital investment by offering visas for non-U.S. citizens who invest in new commercial enterprises.
Four Enterprise students—Bharat Umarji, Alex Meyers, Scott Dyer, and Whitney Shea—took on the project. Their task: help Minnesota develop a strategy for the use of EB-5, something that the state had never done. The project had numerous components— interviews with a range of stakeholder groups and agencies, research into how other states have employed EB-5, analysis of challenges, and the like. It concluded with a study that featured a situation overview and detailed recommendations.
Minnesota Trade Office Executive Director Katie Clark says the student’s work far exceeded her expectations. “This could have a huge impact and give companies more access to capital. Their research and recommendations showed how the state can move forward.”
Former Consulting Enterprise Director Phillip Miller (who was recently named assistant dean of MBA Programs and the Graduate Business Career Center), agrees with Clark’s assessment. “It was remarkable to see college juniors presenting with authority to an audience that included business leaders and representatives from Congress and the state government,” he says. “That speaks to their professionalism and the depth of their work on the project.”
By any measure, the Funds Enterprise has been remarkably successful over the course of its existence. It was one of the country’s first student-managed portfolios. Its students and professional advisors manage a small capitalization growth fund and fixed income fund with approximately $35 million in combined assets. And that amount makes it one of the world’s top three student-managed investment funds. “Our students get great jobs and do exceptional work,” says Program Director Jerry Caruso. “Not everyone gets the opportunity to manage this kind of money at such a young age.”
And yet, as Caruso notes, the Funds Enterprise has long had a relatively low profile. “We’ve tended to be one of the best-kept secrets in town,” he says.
Caruso and his staff have focused on changing that. Over the past year, the Enterprise has revamped its website and social media presence, held alumni events and on-campus educational forums, and worked to elevate awareness within the investment community. “We’ve had our students get off campus and do investment reviews at institutions such as Wells Fargo,” Caruso says. “Those are great opportunities for them to network, improve their presentation skills, and exchange ideas and information.”
In a similar vein, the Enterprise also created the Class of 2013 Bio Book, which features biographies on each of the program’s 40 students (28 MBAs and 12 undergraduates), detailing their past experiences and career goals. “We distributed the book during the summer to financial services firms, recruiters, and alumni,” says Program Associate Bonnie Till. “It was another way to increase awareness of the Enterprise and help create more job opportunities for students.”
As Caruso explains, building awareness and providing additional learning opportunities is an evolving process. “We’re tracking our efforts to see what is and what isn’t working,” he says. “We’re also connecting more with the other Enterprise programs to share ideas and best practices. In the end, we all have the same goals: To provide our students with rich learning experiences, ensure that they’re prepared for real-world jobs, and help improve their chances of getting those jobs.”
“‘Developing entrepreneurial skill through experiential learning’ is our credo,” says Carlson Ventures Enterprise Director Toby Nord. “Our projects run the gamut from working with startups to large companies, social ventures, University-based intellectual property projects, and everything in between.”
That diversity was on display during the past year when the Enterprise’s clients included Thomson Reuters, Sandia National Lab, Scott County (Minnesota), several Twin Cities-area technology firms, and the Mayo Clinic, among others.
The latter project saw a five-student team work with the Mayo Center for Innovation to help evaluate and create a health and wellness service. The team developed an understanding of consumer pain points and the value proposition, and also provided recommendations on how to move forward.
A different student team worked with 3M’s Energy and Advanced Materials Division on a similar project. Maureen Behrens, a 3M Global Chemicals Platform leader, had the team research whether a technology developed in a different 3M corporate lab could be repurposed and applied to the mining industry. The students conducted extensive primary and secondary research, including interviews with industry participants across the globe to understand end-user pain points. “They conducted a deep dive into the mining industry’s specific technology and operational aspects,” Nord explains. “And they developed an understanding of stakeholder dynamics, including industry competition.”
The project culminated in a presentation and set of recommendations. “The student team added real value to our decision-making process,” Behrens says. “They asked questions and provided information that we might not have normally considered. We were also impressed that they could get up to speed on a pretty technical topic and add value as quickly as they did.”
“It was a fantastic and entirely real learning opportunity,” says Mark Edstrom, MBA ’12. “We added perspective that helped 3M decide how to move forward.”