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Students Offer Marketing Consulting to Chicago Innovation Award Nominee and Other Local Businesses

Stuart School of Business students in MBA 586: Strategic Marketing Management, taught by Rob Nelson, Adjunct Faculty and Industry Expert, recently provided a comprehensive market analysis to their “client” company Wheelz On Time, Inc., a rent-to-own tire financing business and Chicago Innovation Awards nominee.

As part of the course, students are divided into teams to work with real-world clients, including many referred through the Knapp Entrepreneurship Center like Sandra Edwards, President and CEO of Wheelz On Time. Students help solve various marketing challenges and provide clients with a comprehensive market analysis.

“Working with the students from Stuart School was a godsend,” said Edwards. “The work they put in has served as the building blocks for my next marketing campaign.”

The Strategic Marketing Management course provides an excellent opportunity for both students and local businesses. Students apply what they have learned in the course to actual marketing situations for a variety of volunteer clients, from large companies to start-ups and nonprofits. Throughout the semester, each student team focuses on a consulting project but also participates in lectures, discussions, in-­class activities, and assigned exercises.

Nelson said, “In addition to addressing and solving key strategic marketing questions in the real world, students come to understand the importance of forming close professional relationships with people in the client companies in order to truly comprehend their needs.” He explained that this occurs through initial research of the client website and continues via regular face-to-face meetings and phone calls with key company contacts.

“Our focus is on the client,” said Nelson who emphasized that students learn consulting skills first-hand, as well as the importance of creating customer value.

Nelson said many of those clients include Chicago-based, minority- and women-owned businesses. “Helping talented and entrepreneurial business owners like Sandra Edwards can ultimately have a positive impact on the community,” said Nelson. 

Through the class, students have assisted over three dozen companies. Six of the recently participating companies are ones that have been nominated for the Chicago Innovation Awards, as well as other recognition and awards.

Marketing Analytics student Celestine McGee is part of a team currently working to define a segment population for a business owner in the beauty industry who needs help attracting customers to her website. McGee said she appreciates that she and her fellow students are expected to take personal ownership of a project.

“It is our responsibility as a team to listen to our client, understand what she is seeking, and determine the best way to be of assistance to her,” said McGee. “This is so exciting, because it is a real company with real issues.”

Student Yange Liang (M.S. M.A.C.) works with another client, a start-up requiring assistance with customer acquisition. “As marketing students, it is crucial that we have strong communication skills and master the appropriate method to help our clients,” said Liang. “In this class, we will finish a project with a company in the real business world. And that is a precious opportunity for us to gain more experience.”

Although Nelson’s class does not work exclusively with clients of the Knapp Center, Executive Director Donna Rockin said the partnership continually proves to be of benefit to both Center clients and students.

“This has been a wonderful opportunity for our clients, and the student teams have produced truly superb work,” Rockin said. “Professor Nelson is a terrific educator and a remarkable asset to the Stuart School of Business.”

Knapp Center client Bill Dorn, creator of the Light Sentry and Founder/CEO of Sonne Industries, LLC, also worked with the class.

The student team performed a thorough review of the Light Sentry's competition in the residential market, providing feature/benefit comparisons and a compilation of user-reviews. They also helped to craft a consumer survey deployed in the U.S., France, Germany, and Brazil providing the company perspective and user-data from various regions of the globe.

“With the knowledge of the competitive landscape, we were able to build our survey to learn what consumers want and differentiate the Light Sentry in the marketplace,” Dorn said. “Comparing response-data from Europe, South America, and the U.S. validated the universality of the need for lighting automation and control.”