Business students: a temporary backbone for Richmond start-ups

Austin Walker
Staff Writer

An innovative project by a VCU professor gave students an honest taste of real world entrepreneurism last semester.

Professor Jay Markiewicz of the VCU School of Business assigned his Fall 2014 classes a collaborative project to consult local businesses and help them solve actual issues the companies were facing.

“This was a great business exercise,” Markiewicz said, “and these were real companies with real issues. It’s not a simulation or case study or a made up business.”

Divided by class section, his morning and evening classes were assigned using two different systems. The morning class had six teams, each working individually with their own startup company. The evening class had three consulting teams assigned to two different companies.

In most cases, the company websites, and ultimately the business overall, wasn’t getting the attention it needed from the public. The students were tasked with working alongside the founders of the business to assuage these issues.

Students were also paired with a local businessperson who mentored them throughout the process.

In selecting the mentors, Markiewicz said he looked for “somebody who had a good business sense with them, they were successful, and they wanted to work with VCU students to give back to the community from their expertise.”

Markiewicz’s students are not the only ones who can take advantage of gaining real-world consulting experience, however. The VCU Business International Consulting Program sends students overseas to various host countries to work alongside companies as well.

Unlike the ICP, which costs $1,500 on average, Markiewicz’s local focus was more affordable for both students and the companies they partnered with.

The project gave students a taste of what start-ups and small businesses face that may not be covered entirely in the classroom curriculum, while businesses saved money and resources on not having to seek professional assistance.

Markiewicz said that despite the few issues he had with the project such as lack of interest in some students, or some companies’ uncertainty regarding the students’ abilities, he is satisfied with the outcome of the semester.

Some students have since obtained internship positions with the companies they worked with.

Markiewicz said he is excited to see that their work has provided actual jobs for some juniors and seniors, and the companies’ continued interest is a testament to the students’ abilities.

While consultation is not the field that every graduate of the VCU business program enters,  Markiewicz insisted that creatively and professionally cooperating with a team to solve abstract problems is an important aspect to any career.

“What organization doesn’t want to hire a student that can take an ambiguous project and come to a value-added outcome?” he asked.

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