Course Spotlight: Michigan Ross Students Deliver Impactful Solutions and Strategic Recommendations to Minority-Owned Small Businesses
Undergraduate students at the Ross School of Business have leveraged their knowledge of consumer behavior and their creativity to assist hundreds of minority-owned and small businesses.
In MKT 313: Consumer Behavior, student teams work throughout the entire semester with real clients that are mostly from Detroit, many of whom are sourced by Detroit Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Project. Student teams gather and analyze data to identify their clients' target customer, what their customers value in their decision-making and why. From this research, teams recommend marketing strategies for their clients to implement. The experience is designed to mimic an internship where students are enhancing many hard and soft skills like account management, research, communication, graphic design, and media planning.
“I have always believed that small businesses are the backbone of our economy, which is largely why I partner with them in my marketing classes at Ross,” said Amy Angell, lecturer of marketing at Michigan Ross. “Learning from and working with entrepreneurs, especially minority-owned businesses, allows my students to implement change and make a difference for brands who don’t have the same resources — time, people, and money —- as other businesses.”
According to Angell, each project created for partnering companies is equivalent to a market value of $7,000, and to date, teams have serviced 120 small businesses from the city of Detroit and 140 small businesses in Ann Arbor and surrounding areas.
Applying course knowledge to make an impact
Mastercard Associate Consultant Cara Siegel, BBA ’22, elected to take MKT 313 because she thought it would be interesting to learn about the psychology behind marketing. Throughout the course, she had the opportunity to apply her understanding of consumer behavior to Lakehouse Bakery in Chelsea, Michigan.
Siegel appreciated learning about why consumers make the choices they do and the opportunity to apply these insights in a creative way when developing her team’s marketing and retention strategy. “We worked closely with the bakery owner and he wanted us to run with the project and be creative which made communication with the client very enjoyable,” she said.
She also shared that the skills she developed through this hands-on experience helped her break into the marketing industry post-graduation and design materials for clients in her current role.
Partnering with small businesses not only proved to be a meaningful experience for students, but the actionable insights they provided also created a lasting positive impact for clients.
For Paradise Detroit owner Nezaa Bandele, the deliverable her student team created made a significant contribution to her business. “I was working to pivot my business post-COVID by applying for grants and loans, but a lot of information we needed to apply I didn’t have,” she explained. “The team helped with a pitch deck that I used for $150,000 worth of grants and that I continue to use today for different grants and media requirements.”
Darryl Humes, co-founder of Mature, a Detroit-based lifestyle clothier, sought out Angell in 2020 because the business was struggling to attract new consumers. After a semester of working with students in MKT 313, Humes shared that Mature was able to increase its customer acquisition and drastically improve its social media presence.
“As a small business, you don’t have a board of directors or an expansive team to give professional advice,” said Humes. “Having students with a strong business acumen, each with individual skill sets, and the ability to ask them questions personally about decisions for our business, proved to be extremely beneficial. The young men and women did a fantastic job.”
Chinonye Akunne, CEO and Co-Founder of ILERA Apothecary, a plant-based skincare business using West African ingredients, similarly shared that since working with the team of MKT 313 students, ILERA Apothecary has grown in terms of sales, social media connections, and business development.
“The team helped us plan social media ahead of time to make sure we were on trend for the season and to ensure our messages were being effectively communicated to customers. Through their data analysis and roadmap for best practices, we were able to optimize our email marketing and obtain a higher open rate, ultimately improving our brand awareness,” Akunne said.
Bandele also shared that working with students in MKT 313 was also an eye-opening experience for her. “When the students looked at my customer base and industry sector, it made me realize that who I thought were my customers weren’t really my customers.”
“I wasn’t huge on social media before but realized I needed to have a better social media presence and be engaging because that’s where my target consumers get their information from. It was really when I worked with the students in MKT 313 that I learned the importance of this,” Bandele said.
The clients expressed that they were happy to provide students with a valuable hands-on learning experience and were thankful for the recommendations they provided.
Akunne similarly shared that partnering with the class was a mutually beneficial learning experience. “All of us are learning at the same time,” she said.
Dylan Kaufman, BA ’23 and Michigan Ross Cappo Sales Track student, said that the combination of hard and soft skills he acquired from the course made him more marketable for his path post-graduation.
“Figuring out post-grad plans can be an intimidating process, but this course really broadened my skill sets in areas like research, graphic design, and account management, that I can now speak about in interviews and leverage for whatever role I chose,” said Kaufman. “On top of that, having the opportunity to actually apply these skills for a real-world business definitely helped me become more confident in my abilities to succeed in the professional world in the future.”