ISU graduate students help community business

Sep 4th, 2017 | By | Category: Business news

By Kendra Evensen

POCATELLO — A master’s of business administration course at Idaho State University is giving students an opportunity to use their skills by helping operating businesses.

Neil Tocher, a professor and the department chair for the College of Business’ Marketing and Management department, said students take MBA 6628 “Applied Business Solutions” during the last semester before they graduate.

“The class allows students to demonstrate their skills in a comprehensive final capstone project which is critical to a real world client,” he said.  “The class is unique because it combines classroom learning with real business problems, which is beneficial for both students and clients.”

Tocher asks clients for projects they want to complete but don’t have the employee time to accomplish. Nearly all thriving businesses have many such projects, he noted. MBA student teams then take on the projects during the 16-week course.

Tocher said the students have worked with many organizations over the years, including Idaho Central Credit Union, Citizens Community Bank, Idaho National Laboratory, Smith Auto Group, ON Semiconductor, Dome Technology, Pearlhill Technologies and many others.

While the projects vary, they typically include some market research, competitive benchmarking, strategic and financial analyses and business planning, Tocher said.

At the beginning, the students are given a basic summary about the clients and their possible needs. They then prepare for an initial consultation by conducting extensive background research on the client, industry, competitors, success factors and market trends over the next few weeks, Tocher said. They also develop a list of questions to help them identify the client’s key needs.

“The students then have twelve weeks to complete the project,” Tocher said. “Students provide clients with a midterm and a final report as well as weekly progress reports.”

In addition to large area businesses, the ISU program also helps the healthcare industry.

“We have, over the years, also worked extensively with healthcare organizations, especially Portneuf Health Partners, because ISU has the state healthcare mission, and sound business decision making is critical in today’s healthcare industry,” Tocher said.

Tocher said the students’ projects can make a big difference for their clients.

For instance, students recently helped Pearlhill Technologies, a small business in Idaho Falls.

Pearlhill aim to create a cleaner world by recycling fluorine molecules from hazardous waste from nuclear power generation into high quality products. One of Pearlhill’s main technologies is a powder coating resin. Powder coating is mainly used for coating of metals, such as household appliances, aluminum extrusions, drum hardware, and automobile and bicycle parts. The resin goes on as a powder, but when cured under extreme heat it forms a hard shell – more durable than paint.

First, the MBA students performed a market and segment analysis on the powder coating industry.

“The results of the analysis found that Pearlhill Technologies was in a prime place for forward momentum in the industry and that the particular resin that they used was ‘a game changer,’” a news release stated.

The business subsequently created a partnership with Dome Technology in Idaho Falls and Matrix Powder Technology in Columbus, Ohio. Pearlhill then used information provided by the students to seek grants.

On June 20, Bamidele Omotowa, president of Pearlhill Technologies, sent a letter to Idaho Senator James E. Risch, in which he expressed thanks to the Idaho Falls Small Business Development Center (SBDC), ISU College of Business Management Department Chair, Dr. Neil Tocher and students in Dr. Tocher’s MBA 6628 Applied Business Solutions course for the assistance they gave which resulted in over $1 million of grant money being awarded to Pearlhill Technologies.

The students have helped many other clients as well. They completed a market analysis for a company called Iuveni Alchemy, which developed a revolutionary product in the haircare industry, Tocher said.

“The research done by the students for Iuveni Alchemy helped the founders win an award at the statewide Idaho Entrepreneur Challenge competition last spring in Boise,” he said. “At that competition, Iuveni Alchemy also gained support of a large institutional investor and is expected to do great things.”

Tocher said the MBA 6628 course is creating valuable partnerships between ISU’s College of Business, its students and the thriving business community in Southeastern Idaho.

“I enjoy facilitating the course and treasure the many outstanding relationships I have built with clients and students throughout the years,” he said.

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