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Ticket to Victory

Business Teams Take Top National Honors

April 10, 2014

Two Cal State Fullerton teams of business majors have brought home top honors from the National Small Business Institute Competition for their business consulting projects. They add to a more than 20-year record of high achievement and national success.

"Once again, our students have proven themselves against other student teams from across the country," said John Bradley Jackson, a lecturer in management and director of the Center for Entrepreneurship, which connects student teams with clients. CSUF teams have placed in the top 10 every year but one since 1991 and earned national titles 11 times during the same period. (See Case Study in Victory

The undergraduate team, from a class taught by Jackson, took first place honors for their work with The Ticket Group, an online event ticketing company. Second-place honors were received by the graduate student team, under the direction of David Leibsohn, assistant professor of management. That team worked with Loutech, a Chino-based high-precision component manufacturer.

"While our winning record is well-known, more important to me is that every semester I am told by multiple students that they learned more doing their consulting projects than in any college class or program," said Jackson.

Members of this year's teams agree.

The Ticket Group

Rex Noreen served as a 'secret shopper' for the project, "experiencing the process and seeing what type of marketing material the company was using." That experience helped with the team's marketing analysis and the recommendations they later provided to the company's leadership, he explained.

"Our group was asked to research areas such as social media, search engine optimization, customer retention, advertising and competition," added Zack Turner. "One of the challenges I faced was scheduling. It's difficult to align many different schedules, and when you add in a small business owner, it becomes exceedingly harder. Luckily, we had great group communication and an available client."

"This was a very valuable learning experience," said Turner. "Being on the inside of a small business, you get a chance to see what it takes to actually run a business. You get to hear about some of the problems new businesses face and how they try to solve those problems. It helped me gain an understanding for how difficult it is to run your own business, which is great because I plan to eventually start my own business."

"The project aided me immensely in the professional world," said Maxwell Lubliner, who is working in marketing and sales for a start-up lighting manufacturer. "The fact that we all knew a little about a wide variety of topics is what made our project successful and has helped me continue on with a small business."

Loutech

"The most challenging part was setting and managing the CEO's expectation," said Omar Besiso. "When we started, it looked like the CEO did not really believe we could make a difference. He was concerned about the family business after the economy took a hit and his company felt it, losing their biggest client, which their business was heavily dependent on. After we started to diagnose the problems, discuss the issues and offer solutions, the CEO was very impressed. Our challenge then was how to manage his expectation and let him know that we will not solve all the issues overnight."

Silvia Liu said she found finishing the project within a limited time and preparing a project with a professional consulting tone were the greatest challenges. "I learned to review a business through different angles, i.e., financial, operational. It's very useful for me to realize the importance of changing the company goals at different stages of the business."

And the experience has given her skills and knowledge that she is applying to her current position: communication and language/different time shift barriers. "The reality is that communications problems are not easy to fix. Not considering the impact of communication habits from various cultures can cost a lot. And the solution for one company is not a universal key to every business."

"The experience was priceless at the end of our program," Besiso said looking back. "We held each other accountable and consulted Professor David Leibsohn when we came across roadblocks that needed his vision and experience to overcome. The experience was very similar to a small department working together, and consulting the manager (the professor) of our findings. We were very lucky as our team had a great chemistry and worked together to deliver a great value to the client."

"I was fortunate to have the team that I had," said Jennifer Davalos. "I was able to learn from each of them, and saw what it was like to work on a high-performing team. What I think our team took away from this project is really focusing on creating value for our client. This is something I will be able to continue to focus on in my career."

Mentors Contribute to Success

"Looking back, what made this group a winner was the fact that everyone contributed to it," said Noreen, who graduated in January and is now working with a financial services firm. "We worked well together and we had mentors who were excellent and never missed a meeting. It was the best group I've ever been a part of."

The Ticket Group team's mentors were Diana Munguia and CSUF alumna Angeli Menta.

"I am in an interesting position as a mentor because I was once a student in this program," explained Menta '12 (B.A. business administration-entrepreneurship), a business consultant and co-owner/marketing/social media coordinator for a start-up mobile application called Fuss. "As a student, I relied a lot on my learning experience and guidance from my mentors, appreciating the time they dedicated to my team.

"Now, as a mentor, being able to offer that same experience to the next group of students is just as rewarding.... By getting to know each person's strong points and weak points, as a group we were able to delegate tasks that not only highlighted each student's ability to produce quality research, but allowed each student to acquire valuable knowledge."

"As a mentor, my goal is always to help students learn and help them produce a great report and presentation for the client," said Munguia, who does retail marketing for Lakeshore Learning. "I learned about each team member's strengths and weaknesses and helped them use those strengths to help the client, as well as help strengthen their weaknesses throughout the semester.

"Class time was key in getting the one-on-one time with the students and checking in each week on where they were at with the project. Reading their paper throughout the semester was also essential in being able to provide valuable feedback," Munguia added. "The students did a great job researching the industry, competitors and devising the best marketing options for the client. All of the students were detailed and thorough in their research, which was key in delivering actionable recommendations to the client. I am very grateful to have been part of this project."

"My main goal was to make sure that the students were taking something away from this experience and learning more about themselves," said Menta. "Being on the consumer side of ticket selling for leisure events was one thing, but getting in the marketing side and actually finding out how to reach out to consumers in general was a new experience for them. I couldn't have asked for a better team to mentor," said Menta.

Clients Now Being Sought

Student teams are matched with local businesses seeking assistance with various aspects of the company, such as promoting a new product or expanding branding opportunities. Throughout the semester, each team meets and communicates with their clients on a regular basis in addition to working with their instructor and mentors. The teams research all aspects of the the company, as well as its competitors, and develop strategies to meet their clients' needs, which are presented at the end of the semester. It is those reports that then go into the national competition.

The Small Business Institute is now accepting inquiries from business owners who wish to have their firms participate in the student consulting program. For more information, call 657-278-3464 or go to http://business.fullerton.edu/management/sbi.

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