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Student teams a win-win-win for businesses, students and Florida SBDC network

By Stacey Dadd

Student team working

TAMPA (Jan. 30, 2017) -- The Florida Small Business Development Center at the University of South Florida working with professors on campus have come up with an innovative concept that helps students, the center and involved businesses.

"This is a triple-win situation," Eileen Rodriguez, regional director of the Florida SBDC at USF, said. "The students get exposed to the inner workings of a real business; the SBDC expands our offerings by connecting our clients to the Muma College of Business' top-notch MBA students; and the business owners learn new ways to sustain and grow their companies."

Depending on the class they are taking, students prepare either marketing plans or full-blown business plans for the businesses involved in the program. The teams review marketing strategies and operations and they analyze financials and prepare a final report with recommendations.

The companies are clients of the Florida SBDC at USF and vetted by a center director.

Qualified businesses:

  • are for-profit small businesses as defined by the U.S. SBA (less than 500 employees);
  • have been in business for at least five years;
  • have more than 10 employees;
  • have gross revenues of more than $2 million.

An SBDC consultant oversees the project throughout the semester as well and all of this is provided at no cost to the university or the participating company.

Participating businesses must agree to meet with their student team a few times at the beginning of the semester.  Communication throughout the semester continues via email and telephone calls to provide sufficient information about the business to the students to make the business plan useful.

In the last school year, nine local companies were served by graduate students, who logged more than 2,900 hours on the projects.

"The experiences gained by the students were valuable and resulted in two students being offered unsolicited internships with the participating companies," said James Taylor, adjunct Instructor with USF's Muma College of Business Center for Entrepreneurship. Taylor's students worked more than 350 hours throughout the semester to provide Custom Manufacturing & Engineering (CME) with new market research and recommendations.

"As a faculty member," he said, "I always offer participation in the Florida SBDC's student teams to those students who can leverage the opportunity to learn from real life entrepreneurs."

CME was equally as pleased with the experience.

Fred Munro, vice president of CME said the students who worked on his company's project, "demonstrated effective completion of the complex research effort (and) the dedication, hard work and extra hours that the team put in during the last few months will enhance CME's solar4STEM market pursuits."

Student team involvement does not always lead to job offers, but most definitely serves as a valuable real-world learning experience. Former USF student, Hilary Lehman, participated in a student team for VoltAir Consulting Engineers during the International Business Application capstone course, in her last semester at USF.

Over a period of 16 weeks, the team spent 449 hours meeting with owner Julius Davis, working on his strategic plan. The students interviewed not only Davis, but his executive staff and employees. The team reviewed operations as well as financials and formulated action plans based on their findings. They came up with interesting and new perspectives on what markets to target, namely health care and entertainment.

"They did an awesome job with researching our industry and developed some great strategic planning ideas for VoltAir," Davis wrote in an email to the Florida SBDC at USF. "I have been referencing their findings as I update our business plan and marketing strategies."

Lehman, who led the team, said working with VoltAir was one of the most rewarding experiences of her USF MBA program.

"Not only did I learn the ins and outs of a field in which I have no experience – engineering – but I also took away an understanding of how to create a strategic plan for any business," Lehman said. "I also enjoyed working with the SBDC to connect with a company because we were offered far more access and information than almost any of our classmates.

"I think this was because our association with the SBDC communicated that we could provide a business service for VoltAir that would be truly valuable to the company."

More information on Student Teams can be found at

Stacey Dadd is the marketing and communications officer for the Florida SBDC at USF. She also consults with small businesses on social media, marketing and design.