Case Study in Victory

First- and Third-Place Finishes Further Tradition of Achievement

A team of undergraduates from Cal State Fullerton’s Mihaylo College of Business and Economics has won a national competition sponsored by the Small Business Institute.

The undergraduate team of six enrolled in the “Marketing for Entrepreneurs” course taught by John Jackson, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship, won the top prize in the SBI’s Student Consulting Project of the Year Competition for 2011-12.

In the graduate students’ division of the national contest, a Cal State Fullerton team finished third.

CSUF teams have been winning or finishing in the top three spots in this annual competition for more than 20 years. Overall, Titans have taken the national titles 10 times since 1991 and placed in the top 10 every year but 2002.

“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. The center he directs on campus connects student teams with clients. “Maybe even more gratifying are the accolades that we get from our alumni who later contact us to let us know how impactful the experience was for them.”

First-Place Winners

The CSUF undergrads’ win was based on their project work for the Irvine staffing firm FORTIS Resource Partners.

“They were a great group to work with and quite talented, too,” said Kira Bruno, founder and CEO of FORTIS and a CSUF graduate (B.A. business administration-marketing ’95). “Not only was the team highly professional, but I also enjoyed the lively, energetic personalities of the team members. It stands to reason that they received this great honor.”

Bruno said she turned to her alma mater for consulting expertise at a friend’s suggestion. “I had really been seeking a way to improve brand awareness through the company's website and social media outlets,” she recalled. “As I researched the CSUF business student consulting program, I found that this program was a way to get this accomplished.”

She noted that her company has implemented many of the suggestions from the plan the students produced. “We have been able to lead clients to our website through the practices that were suggested in the business plan, and it has resulted in continued brand awareness and continuity of the FORTIS Resource Partners branding message,” she said. In addition, “we have a greater sense of pride in our messaging as it relates to how we back up what we do.”

“This experience provided a practical learning opportunity outside the classroom,” said Crystal Gosselin, the student team leader. “We met with the client as a group and listened to her story. After we identified the business challenges, the group divvied up the elements so we could each focus on specific sections. Each of us then fed our respective section to make one complete, consistent consulting report.

“Our biggest challenge was time management,” added Gosselin, who now works as a marketing coordinator for an environmental engineering firm. The largest reward, she added, was “overcoming our obstacles to complete a quality report on time. And, we went on to win the national competition, which speaks volumes about our work.”

“Although, it may have been tough at times, it really gave us a chance to enhance our professionalism and a ‘hands-on’ approach to learning better business practices,” said Marissa Pickering (B.A. business administration-entrepreneurship ’11), who handled public relations for the group. “The biggest reward for me was to have a satisfied client. Another reward was being able to network with media sources and have the CEO featured in an article.”

Mark Fodor, an international student completing his master’s thesis in Germany, agreed. “I thought that group work was really exciting, especially working with a real company. The most fun, I would say, was when we prepared something for the client, and they liked it or had constructive criticism. I can definitely say that every individual can only benefit from such an experience.”

Pickering said she thought the biggest challenge was handling the group dynamics. “The diverse work group had its benefits and weaknesses, but overall it gave our group the ability to think ‘outside the box’ and appreciate other group members’ ideas.”

“It was a great experience,” agreed Henry Schwartz, another international student team member, who has since returned to Finland. “The end result was great.”

Third Place in the Nation

A group of graduate students enrolled in the “Business Strategy Capstone” course taught by Dmitry Khanin, assistant professor of management, took third place in the graduate division of the SBI competition for its work for Connection III Entertainment Corp.

“The scope of the project was determined by the client’s request to examine the opportunities for creating a new 24/7 TV network,” said Khanin. “Such a new network would allow for brand extensions of the television series franchises created, produced and distributed by Connection III, thereby increasing their popularity with viewers worldwide.

“I think the team worked really well, and I use them as an example with my other classes of great collaboration and the ability to solve a difficult case from an industry that was new to them,” said Khanin.

“The students considered not only Connection III’s existing shows, but the possible creation of new shows and new formats for the 24/7 network,” he added. “They conducted a comprehensive analysis of the project, including an examination of the industry, existing networks — especially recently created TV networks — the organization of the client firm and its financial situation, then developed a number of recommendations based on the financial resources and marketing strategies needed to get the new network up to speed and the timeline for project development and implementation.”

“Their work was very professional and I appreciated the effort that the students put into the study, the amount of detail, and extensive resources, research and concepts they brought together,” said Cleveland O’Neal III,Connection III Entertainment Corp.’s founder, president and CEO.

“The biggest challenge was breaking down such a large undertaking into smaller portions that were easier to digest,” said graduate student team leader Ryan Yerby (B.A. business administration-management ’03, MBA-marketing ’11), who handled the marketing portion of the project. “We had team members with focuses on business administration, finance and accounting for the corresponding parts of the project.”

“It was very important to have group members with different sets of skills. Working with a real client gave us the opportunity to apply our knowledge and solve problems we never saw in classes,” said Chokee Pulvoralak (MBA ’11), who has launched his own business. While time management was a concern, “the most fun was brainstorming ideas because we got to listen to each others’ creative ideas that might have come from their work and life experiences.

“With everybody's dedication, it was a very good learning experience and felt good to know that the decisions we were going to make would help a company improve its performance,” Pulvoralak added.

“The biggest reward for me [from this experience] was the knowledge I gained in regards to the cable industry,” said Yerby, who works as an account executive in advertising. “The experience helped me to gain my current position by providing me with the hands-on experience in the industry.”

Clients Wanted

Working through the university’s Small Business Institute, companies can request a student team to work with them, said Jackson. When companies are qualified for assistance, they are matched with student teams.

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


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