CIE Expands the MBA Consulting Program

By BECKY GILLETTE, from the Mississippi Business Journal

After a successful Masters of Business Administration pilot project in 2015 at the University of Mississippi, beginning this fall the Ole Miss MBA program will partner with the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship to give MBA students the opportunity to serve as consultants to North Mississippi businesses.

The purpose of the program is to assist business owners in finding creative solutions to their challenges while giving the students hands-on experience in the business world.

The MBA program is an expansion of the program that began in the fall of 2014 as an undergraduate program for the top students in the business and accountancy schools, said Owens Alexander, adjunct instructor of management and entrepreneur in residence at CIE.  During the first two years of the undergraduate program, 40 students participated working on 25 different projects and spent more than 2,000 hours working with local clients at Ole Miss and in the Oxford/Lafayette County area.

This past spring the program was expanded to include two MBA students who had graduate assistantships working in the CIE.

“The results of adding the MBAs was very positive for both the students and the client they assisted,” Alexander said. “This fall we will be adding six new MBA students to the program to work alongside the undergraduate students. In my role in coordinating this program, I work with the consulting teams every day. It is extremely rewarding to see how the students take what they have learned in the classroom and put it to use in real business situations.  Every student who has been in the program proudly points to this experience on their resume as they go into the business world.”

The MBA consultant program was piloted this past year with Nicholas Diller and Colin Wattigney, said Dr. Clay Dibrell, executive director, CIE, and a professor of management at Ole Miss.

“They worked, along with two of our undergraduate students from our student business consultant program, on a commercialization feasibility study with Dr. Andrew Smith at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC),” Dibrell said. “Andrew invented a new liver diagnostic tool, and the team assisted him on finding different strategies to commercialize this technology.”

Wattigney and Diller spent eight months on creating a commercialization plan for the technology Smith is developing at UMMC.

“This was more than filling out a report,” said Diller. “It’s something you want to put a lot of effort into and apply what you learn in class.”

Ashley Jones, director of the MBA program, said the collaboration with the CIE is an avenue that takes Ole Miss MBAs into the community and takes their skills to the next level.

“Our program readily embraces opportunities that allow our students to apply what they learn in the classroom to real-world scenarios,” Jones said.

Dibrell echoed that sentiment.

“Having Colin and Nick in my MBA entrepreneurship class, I saw them applying the concepts and tools that they learned in class in an actual business setting where entrepreneurs were counting on them to make the right decisions,” Dibrell said. “This type of experience benefits both the entrepreneur and the student. Having MBA students working with local businesses is a win-win situation. The business has access to the cutting-edge tools and techniques, while the students have an opportunity to apply the knowledge learned in class.”

Dibrell said they are excited about the opportunity to have more students working and learning from the local businesses. He said the program will help local businesses be more financially successful while enabling the students to gain valuable work experience.

“Plus, if the business and the student relationship works, then the owner will have a good chance to hire our future MBA graduate,” Dibrell said. “Our goal in the program is to provide business experience for our MBA students and to make our Mississippi businesses more competitive,” Dibrell said. “The best and brightest MBA undergraduate business and accounting students work in the consulting program. Businesses located in Northern Mississippi can have access to this talent. Our undergraduate consultants have worked on other projects including with an Oxford restaurant owner to create the systems needed to successfully open up multiple new restaurants across the state, social media campaigns targeting the Millennial generation, and working with local shop owners on improving their bookkeeping system.”

Students work directly with their assigned clients to solve business challenges. Depending on the scope of work, each project lasts 30-90 days and students work 8-10 hours per week.

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