Campus: San Francisco State University -- December 17, 2003

SF State Students Consult with Bay Area Entrepreneurs

Graduate students in Management 832, Entrepreneurship Resource Acquisition, received hands-on experience this semester in one of the most essential -- but difficult to master -- leadership skills: giving constructive criticism.

They offered some in their consulting work for two Bay Area-based small businesses, giving a wide range of recommendations for improvements and growth.

"Your company lacks a strategic plan," MBA student Allan Hui said in a presentation to the owners of Paiz Public Relations LLC, an agency specializing in the mutual funds industry. "Your Web site is not very professional; it should be updated more often."

Lori Shannon, founder and owner of women's athletics store See Jane Run Sports, received suggestions to delegate more responsibilities and communicate to managers and other employees more effectively. Student Devon Fordyce-Wilson said this will lead to better employee satisfaction and loyalty, resulting in stronger customer service.

"If you get them to be empowered, they'll be loyal and stay longer," she said.

The students spent eight weeks as consultants for the businesses, doing "living case studies" under the supervision of Associate Professor Rich McCline, co-director of the Ohrenschall Center for Entrepreneurship and a Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center board member. They conducted intensive research about the companies and their employees, industries and competitors. Students worked in groups of four, with two groups for each business.

The students gave their final 30-minute presentations earlier this month at Renaissance, a nonprofit that provides small business training and support services to Bay Area entrepreneurs starting or growing business.

Hui and others in his group presented a detailed six-month action plan to Paiz's owners, Damon Paiz and Jill Bourque, on how to best expand their business. Recommendations included hiring new employees, creating a strategic alliance with a similar type of agency on the East Coast, offering free lectures and seminars to prospective clients, and using the recent negative publicity surrounding mutual fund scandals as an opportunity to attract clients and generate press.

"Mutual funds need PR more than ever right now," MBA student Onur Bozada said.

The other group consulting for Paiz made similar recommendations, focusing extensively on marketing and branding as well as time management.

"It was so amazing looking at my own company as a spectator," Paiz said. "At first I was like, 'Hey what are you saying?' But I am so glad I went through the whole process."

Most of the students' comments were positive, encouraging Paiz and Bourque to focus on their strengths in marketing their services.

"If the companies can think of your name versus big (public relations) agencies, there is a reason," MBA student Monica Hsieh said. "You do good work, have expertise and they trust you."

Bourque, who is Paiz's sister, added that she plans to implement several of the recommendations immediately.

Other recommendations for See Jane Run Sports included promoting the company's mission -- to empower women -- to its employees and hiring a backroom stocker. The students also offered several options for implementing a computerized accounting program and analyzed the pros and cons of opening stores outside of the Bay Area.

"Both groups did a great job and got to the core of the issues," Shannon said. "I was really amazed at all the work they did behind the scenes."

Ligeia Polidora, Director, Public Affairs, 415/338-3053, ligeia@sfsu.edu


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