invaluable advice to
the SBI at Christopher Newport University and
acting dean of its business school.
SBI services are typically free or of minimal cost (up to about $500). Almost all business issues can be addressed, though some
chapters may handle issues that others will not.
But practically all SBI chapters analyze a business’ marketing, finance, management, market
research and human resources functions.
Because the students are supervised by a
faculty member, the business owner benefits
not only from the efforts of the students but
also from the faculty member’s expertise.
But it is the specific recommendations that
are most valuable.
By Alan S. Horowitz
COSTCO MEMBER Kim Reardon’s
growing sports specialty e-commerce
company, Netline Sports, in Newport
News, Virginia, needed marketing help. She
couldn’t afford a high-powered marketing consultant, so she contacted the Small Business
Institute (SBI) at Christopher Newport University in Newport News. The SBI produced a
report that included a business plan and some
very effective marketing strategies. “Within
two years, I implemented almost all of their
recommendations,” says Reardon. “They
helped me focus on the direction I should
take my company.”
Cathy Bechler’s company, Feed This!,
which is based in Sebastopol, California, and
manufactures pet food, went to the SBI at
Sonoma State University for help with
improving her business’ efficiency. Feed This!
delivers to customers’ homes, and the students recommended separating the loading
function from driving the delivery trucks,
among other suggestions. “We were kind of
stuck,” says Bechler, also a Costco member.
“[The SBI helped] clean up loose ends we
didn’t have the time to look at.”
Reardon and Bechler are two of the thousands of entrepreneurs who have benefited
from the services of the SBI. Made up entirely
of volunteers, the nonprofit SBI, with about
140 chapters nationwide, uses the services of
college students who are in their last year of
“They helped me
focus on the
direction I should
take my company.”
graduate or undergraduate business school to
analyze small businesses and provide specific
recommendations. Students receive credit for
the project and are closely supervised by a
SBI success stories
Kay Hirai, a Costco member who owns
Studio 904, a salon and spa with locations in
Seattle and Mercer Island, Washington, used
SBI advice from the Seattle University chapter to boost business at a struggling location.
The student team conducted market research,
including surveying Hirai’s customers, and
identified her target market. Its recommendations helped turn around the location,
“The benefits were incalculable,” she says.
Daniel Chakin used the services of the SBI
at Rider University in Lawrenceville, New
Jersey. His company, EB7 of Fayetteville, New
York, develops time-and-expense tracking
software. Initially, the product worked only on
the Palm platform, but was expanded to other
platforms because of student recommendations. Says Chakin: “They said don’t wait too
long [to develop other platforms]. They didn’t
know how prescient they were.” That recom-
Tapping the ivory tower
The SBI is “dedicated to bridging the gap
between academic understanding and actual
small-business practices,” says Bruce Kemelgor,
associate professor of management at the
University of Louisville and the SBI’s president-elect.
The SBI works with for-profit and nonprofit organizations. The typical company or
organization has one to 50 employees and can
be in virtually any industry. “The business
owner on the verge of expansion is typically the
best client,” says Stephanie Bardwell, director of
For more information on the Small Business
Institute, go to its Web site at www.small
businessinstitute.biz. (Note: the site is in
the process of being updated.) To find an
SBI near you, conduct an Internet search of
“small business institute” and your state.
It’s smart to plan in advance. Some SBIs
operate one semester a year, others two
and others nearly year-round. Also, be prepared to be available to provide information,
give students access to data and otherwise
support their efforts.