Students in lecturer Bill Dinardo’s ELE4060 class are benefiting from what appears to be the perfect storm for learning – and in the process they are helping small businesses ply their way through difficult economic times.

Lecturer Bill Dinardo

Bill Dinardo

The Department of Management’s entrepreneurial Venture Consulting class of mostly juniors and seniors is getting hands-on experience helping the local start-ups and family-run small businesses weather the COVID-19 storm.

“ELE4060 provides students with an entrepreneurial challenge by honing their analytical and problem-solving skills through consulting projects with local small businesses,” Dinardo said. “Students provide their clients with a formal consulting proposal followed by recommendations and an implementation plan.”

Students aren’t handed their clients. They have to find the clients and sell the business on the benefits they can offer during these challenging times.

“This is real-world experience. Nothing is handed to you,” Dinardo said. “Students have to network and cold-call clients to find a business willing to participate. Sometimes it involves pounding the pavement and going door-to-door. It’s like a mini-internship for these students and a great way for them to walk in the footsteps entrepreneurs do and experience the challenges they face.”

John Mckeon, a management major, said the class has benefited his understanding of consulting and small business operations on several fronts.

John Mckeon mugshot

John Mckeon

“This class puts a student into a real relationship with a business owner and gives us the opportunity to walk in their shoes in understanding their business and its needs,” the junior from West Chester, N.Y., said. “It’s also a great lesson in teamwork, especially considering the enhanced need to communicate in today’s environment.”

Dinardo has the class of about 40 divided into eight teams. The businesses students have recruited this semester include Peppino’s Pizza, M.H. Frank, Reeds Jewelers, Crossroads Coffee, Carolina Bay Healing Waters, The Pound Cake Man, MicroShield 360 and Camasure.

Tiger Baskets is a business that delivers Clemson-themed gift baskets to university students. Owners Joy and Bobby Skelton worked with their team of students in the fall of 2019 before the pandemic hit. Joy said the recommendations students made helped Tiger Baskets significantly.

“They helped us in stepping up our social media presence and tutored us on how to do that. Because in-person summer orientation was cancelled, we didn’t get to meet parents to promote the business, so their help in upgrading our web site and Tiger Basket’s social media presence helped tremendously in connecting to our customer base.”

Dinardo said students walk into most businesses with a built-in skill set that will help most small companies enhance their marketability.

“It’s a generational thing. These students were born with cell phones in their hands and have a strong understanding of social media and web site development,” he said. “They know so much more about 21st century marketing through the Web that many small businesses don’t.”

The breadth of ELE4060’s curriculum goes beyond analytics, problem-solving and creating business plans, Dinardo said.

“We teach them professionalism, how to dress for success, time management and building client relationships, to name a few,” Dinardo added. “As important as anything, an entrepreneur has to be able to speak well and we offer plenty of opportunity for honing that skill. An entrepreneur can have the best plan for a business, but if you can’t articulate it, it’s all for naught.”

Frank Cortese, founder and owner of Peppino’s Pizza in Seneca and Clemson, is one of the business owners who has worked with students on consulting projects and is again this semester.

“Students did the analysis and came up with some great ideas, then COVID hit. We’re looking forward to implementing some of those ideas this semester,” Cortese said. “The class gives these students real-world experience and Peppino’s is happy to work with them on their journey into the business world.”

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