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Duke MBA Students Offer Consulting Services to Triangle Area Businesses

July 05, 2004

DURHAM, N.C. -- MBA students at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business want to help small businesses in the Triangle area that need consulting help but cannot afford to pay the typical fees of consulting agencies.

Through the Fuqua Small Business Consulting Program, first-year MBA students can take a course for credit to help companies solve their business problems.

In the last 20 years, Fuqua students have assisted more than 200 local companies through this consulting program. Past activities have included improving accounting systems, analyzing cash flow, diagnosing management problems, improving information technology procedures, performing market surveys and developing market strategies.

To be considered for the program, businesses must meet the following criteria:

  • Be in operation for at least one year;
  • Be within a one-hour drive of Duke;
  • Have revenues exceeding $100,000 for the past business year;
  • Management is willing to provide financial data (one-year minimum) and operational data to the student consultants;
  • Management is available to meet with the student team at least five or six times during the the consulting engagement (October 2004 through April 2005);
  • Management will pay a $200 administrative fee if accepted into the consulting program.
    Fuqua students recently assisted Affinergy, a high-tech entrepreneurial firm whose technology was developed at Duke University Medical Center. Affinergy owns exclusive worldwide rights to the "Interfacial Biomaterials" (IFBM) coating technology, which can be used to join biological materials (such as bones) to synthetic material.

Affinergy wanted the Fuqua team to find non-health uses for this technology. The team reviewed about 10 examples and decided on researching the cork used as a wine bottle stopper. Between 2 and 8 percent of wine is ruined each year because of undesirable bacteria in the cork, referred to as "cork taint." The team analyzed the size of the problem (up to one billion corks a year could be tainted) and developed a strategy to determine if the Affinergy process could isolate and contain the cork taint.

The ongoing project, if successful, could generate several hundred million dollars a year in business, said William A. Sax, director of the program and executive-in-residence at Fuqua.

"Students are eager to take their classroom knowledge and apply it to real-world situations," said Sax, who begins his 18th year of teaching at Fuqua this fall. "Companies benefit from the practical advice they receive from the students who average five years' business experience after receiving their undergraduate degree and before entering the Duke MBA program."

Non-profit organizations are welcome in the program. Past participating not-for-profit organizations are the North Carolina Museum of Life and Science, the Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abuse, Futures For Kids, North Carolina Justice and Community Development Center, Durham Companions and the Capital Area Soccer League.

The students select those clients that best match the experiences, interests and abilities of the consulting teams. Once selected, business owners meet with the student team to discuss the problems to be addressed.

It is critical that the students have access to the financial data of the company, regardless of the problems to be studied, Sax said. "Without complete financial information, it is like trying to decorate a house in the dark."

Sax regularly reviews the students' progress until they successfully complete the project with a formal oral and written presentation for the client. Every student signs a letter of confidentiality before the consulting engagement begins.

Sax is now accepting applications for the fall 2004 consulting program. The application deadline is Aug. 31.

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Interested businesses can request a brochure and application by calling Sax's assistant, Beverly James, at (919) 660-7789 or via e-mail at texas@duke.edu.

The program overview, application and brochure are also available online at www.fuqua.duke.edu. From the Fuqua homepage, type "sc" in the Shortcuts Box in the upper right-hand corner of the page. On the Consulting Services page, information is available for download from the column on the right side.