By Assunta Ng
Minority business owners sailed on an Argosy cruise ship to celebrate success on May 20. The success they discussed wasn’t about making a million dollars or landing a big deal — far from it — but the significant results of a project they participated in are evident.
What these entrepreneurs received was a guiding light to reach the tunnel through a group of student volunteers. What they gained, after a 10-week program, were not only “aha” moments, but also tools, support, and insights into how they can improve, survive, strive for success, or take on their next challenges.
“The students help me to reach my goals,” said Kirby Teuila Grey, an acupuncturist on Beacon Hill. “For instance, if I want to make an annual income of $50,000 a year,” she said, “the students would break it down into monthly goals. What amount of business does she need each month to achieve her goal? How many new clients does she need to have every month? What assets and connections does she have in order to attract new clients?
Grey credited the students for giving her “positive directions to really dig into,” and helping her to “implement ideas.”
Kristi Brown-Wokoma, owner of That Brown Girl Cooks, said, “We (business owners) are so busy every day, we don’t have time to plan.” But the students helped Brown-Wokoma put everything in perspective and on paper, which evolved into a planning process. Her vision has translated into written words, so she could clarify her thoughts and strengthen her vision. It became her plan for expansion.
Lillian E. Hill, of Brown Sugar Baking Company, said the students told her that her business had no infrastructure. She needs one if she wants to succeed. She has to organize herself and her business. The students came up with lists and helped the owner put her ideas into writing.
Another store owner who participated in the program two years ago said the students recommended she hire a controller. She did. It literally changed her business, she said.
One fast-food restaurant manager who joined the program last year said she didn’t believe in the program at first. When the students were able to turn the impossible to the possible by providing important recommendations for business growth, she was very surprised and touched.
Statistics show that one in every four small businesses fails after the first year; one in every three businesses fails after second year; and one in every two businesses fails after the third year.
To avoid being a statistic, many minority businesses have signed up with the University of Washington’s Foster Business School’s student consulting program, called Management 449.
Three to five students work together on a business’ problem and come up with deliverable solutions. The students are not alone by themselves. Organized by UW Consulting & Business Development Center (CBDC), this program was founded in 1995. It has coordinated the class with a business school instructor, so students can learn both the theories and acquire real-life practical experience by consulting with these businesses. The Rotary Club of Seattle and former business school alumni voluntarily serve as mentors and advisers to these students on their consulting project. For self-disclosure purposes, I am one of the students’ mentors. I have seen how students rolled up their sleeves to give a facelift to a Rainier Valley restaurant by painting the walls, developing marketing strategies, and redesigning its menu and seating arrangement to make its space more functional.
Students can select the diverse businesses to consult, including restaurants, grocery stores, yoga studios, acupuncturists, construction companies, real estate agencies, trade associations, galleries, private schools, bakeries, media, services, nonprofit organizations, and food industries. The students visit the business just like regular consultants, observe, and ask questions. The students spend several hours researching and studying other successful businesses’ models to apply their knowledge to their own clients.
In reality, the business is tapping into many brains of experienced professionals.
Student Emily Fullmer said, “My student consulting experience with Marination was one of the most valuable experiences I have had within the UW Foster School. It provided me with the opportunity to establish relationships with mentors and advisers from the business community. Their input and guidance added incredible value to our final project, as well as helped to cultivate our understanding of real world business problems.”
CDBC Associate Director Wilfredo T. Tutol said, “What I love most about this work is the impact that it’s had on both our students and the business owners that we’ve assisted. Not only will students learn skills that will benefit them many years after they’ve graduated from the UW Foster School, but they’ll also learn the important role that business plays to help build strong communities. The impact that this ultimately makes on our business owners is huge.”
The mentors and advisers serve as a sounding board and also help brainstorm ideas and solutions with the students to solve the business’ problems.
Andrew Hamada, an advisor and former business alum, said, “I had a great time helping the students this quarter. Roz and Kamala (Marination Restaurant’s business owners) were fun and engaged clients, and I think they got real value from having the students’ perspective on their business. the team came up with creative ideas that were adopted by the business faster than I’ve seen in the past.”
Led by Michael Verchot, CBDC serves as a connector between small businesses, communities, and the academic world. It provides support and networking opportunities for small businesses. It gives students valuable life skills and experiences they can add to their resumes, improving their chances of getting their first job. Through this program, CBDC builds wonderful bridges between the UW Business School and the community.
Verchot, a Caucasian himself, has been involved with the program since it began.
Why does a white man want to get involved with minority communities?
Verchot, of Irish heritage, said not too long ago that Irish immigrants were discriminated against.
“No Irish Need Apply” was in many job postings, he recalled. “Unequal opportunity is a problem for our entire country,” he said, “not just for the individuals that lack opportunity to succeed. I got my MBA because I was convinced that if people in low- and moderate-income communities could have access to jobs and if people of all backgrounds could build wealth, then not only would our country live up to its promise of equal opportunity for all, but our country would be more competitive and stronger which would benefit all of us.”
If you are interested in CBDC’s service, you can email Michael Verchot at email@example.com.
The consultation fee is $500 for about 400 hours of assistance. (end)