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Conference Brings Together Industry Leaders to Discuss Business Implications of COVID-19

John Thune
Sen. John Thune ’84 MBA

The University of South Dakota Beacom School of Business hosted the Business Implications of COVID-19: Challenges and Opportunities for South Dakota conference last October for over 600 virtual attendees and 80 on-site attendees at the Hilton Garden Inn Downtown in Sioux Falls.

“This conference on business implications of COVID-19 was a tremendous success, as it brought South Dakota’s business and government leaders together to discuss the challenges and put the spotlight on the opportunities,” said Venky Venkatachalam, Ph.D., dean of USD Beacom School of Business. “We need to think of and prepare ourselves for the current and post pandemic.”

Jack Hopkins
Jack Hopkins ’84 B.S.B.A.

The conference brought prominent leaders together to discuss the changes to their industry during the pandemic. It was intended for professionals in the state and the region looking to gain a better understanding of the changes to the South Dakota economy  from COVID-19. Speakers included Sen. John Thune, CorTrust Bank President and CEO Jack Hopkins, Daktronics Chief Financial Officer Sheila Anderson, Avera Chief Financial Officer Julie Lautt and POET Vice President of Corporate Affairs Doug Berven.

“2020 has been a difficult year for many communities in our region,” said Tyler Custis, MBA, J.D., assistant professor in the USD Beacom School of Business. “However, the Business Implications of COVID-19 conference provided a window into the resilience of South Dakota businesses.The insightful thoughts of the distinguished speakers highlighted how South Dakota will continue to innovate in ways that will make our economy stronger. As a faculty member, I can bring these ideas back to the classroom to better prepare our students to address the challenges firms are facing.”

Julie Lautt
Julie Lautt ’93 B.S.B.A.

The conference was also open and free for students. Macy Halverson ’20, a first-year MBA student at the USD Beacom School of Business, attended the conference in person. She said that hearing from industry leaders about the opportunities in South Dakota was hopeful.

“Job searching has been difficult for college graduates since many companies have imposed hiring freezes as the result of the pandemic, but the speakers were hopeful the job market will begin rebounding soon,” Halverson said. “I’ll use this, along with other information I learned at the conference, as I soon enter into the workforce.”

“Our students need to be given opportunities to listen to and engage with the industry and government leaders, so they are well-prepared as they start and build their careers,” Venkatachalam said. “Our faculty are deeply committed to this goal and we plan to focus on sustaining this effort through a CEO forum or equivalent going forward to bring leaders from around the world to engage with our faculty and students. South Dakota has an amazing worth ethic and a supply of high-quality and well-trained business talent that can serve the state, region and the nation well.”

Sheila Anderson
Sheila Anderson ’14 MBA
Doug Berven
Doug Berven

Coyote Business Consulting Group Wraps Up Successful First Year

Fifty-two University of South Dakota students gained real-world experience by consulting for 26 South Dakota businesses affected by COVID-19, offering strategy, analysis and insight through the new Beacom School of Business Coyote Business Consulting Group.

Many of South Dakota’s businesses felt the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and were left in uncharted territories, struggling to stay afloat. USD students found themselves without internships or summer jobs because they were delayed or canceled. Recognizing a need, Beacom School of Business created the Coyote Business Consulting Group to address both problems, and the results were dynamic.

Beacom students were put in teams of two and were advised by 13 business professors. Projects were in the fields of marketing, management, data analytics, accounting, finance, health services administration and human resources. They gained experience in multiple dimensions of the business world, including market research, business planning, budget analysis, business analytics, strategic planning, project management, peer-to-peer learning, working on a high-performance team and working within the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic. To help fund the program, Beacom received a $65,000 federal grant through the South Dakota’s Small Business Development Center to pay student and faculty advisor stipends for their work.

“As the leading business school in the state, the Beacom School of Business has a responsibility to help drive economic development in South Dakota,” said Venky Venkatachalam, Ph.D., dean of the Beacom School of Business. “The Coyote Business Consulting Group program not only helps businesses in the state survive, sustain and succeed during the pandemic, it also fosters the next generation of business leaders. The success of this program in its first year is great incentive to expand our engagement throughout the state even more.”

Coyote Consulting Graph
Coyote Business Consulting: Project Selections

Harvest Winds, LLC is a 12-employee  sewing business owned by Cheryl Bartlett and located in Parmelee, South Dakota. Bartlett said she reached out to Beacom because even though she has a 30-year corporate career behind her, she understands the need to constantly be aware of new opportunities crossing her path and to try different modes of advertising. In the eight years Harvest Winds has been open, Bartlett has put available resources toward advertising but wanted to be sure what she was doing was effective.

“We knew that having an outside source would help us know what we were doing was accomplishing our goals and felt that their suggestions would get us more exposure,” Bartlett said. “Additionally, other entities wanted to do features of our business from the knowledge that they came across while working with Beacom. How great is that?”

Recent graduate and former online MBA student Kim Raines ’20 and partner, Sara Lum, a current MBA student, were the chosen consultants for Harvest Winds. The duo conducted an in-depth competitive audit and SWOT analysis, trend and consumer insight research and then recommended promotional strategies. The strategies were created based on the notion of navigating business during the COVID-19 pandemic but to have lasting impact beyond the crisis. 

Being 1,300 miles away from the client—Raines was a distance MBA student from Kennewick, Washington—may have at first seemed to be a challenging endeavor, being unable to meet in person, but according to Raines, the project was not a challenge at all. Rather, she said, “The experience was nothing but fruitful, producing quality recommendations for the client and a positive learning experience for both myself and my partner. When working with a client it is important to build trust, especially when they are divulging information about their company. It feels difficult to do that without face-to-face communication, but we made it work great!”

Bartlett was happy with the mix of majors her consultants brought to the table. “Both the young ladies were so different in their backgrounds;  however, they were able to bring the best of both of their backgrounds together to put the business first,” she said.

Coyote Consulting Graph 3
Coyote Business Consulting: Students by Class Level

Raines echoed those sentiments of the project’s impact to her education and career. 

“Participating in the Coyotes Business Consulting program was one of the most valuable and connected experiences I had as an online MBA student at the Beacom School of Business,” said Raines. “Throughout the project I was able to bring both my academic and real-world experience to help deliver achievable recommendations for our client. But more than anything, I found the relationships I created throughout the consulting project with my group, advisor and client to be invaluable.”

New Webinar Series Launched to Help South Dakota Businesses During Pandemic

The initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic response efforts launched by the University of South Dakota Beacom School of Business was a series of webinars on key topics to help South Dakota businesses manage through crisis. The series was a collaboration between the state’s flagship business school and its outreach centers: the Prairie Family Business Association (PFBA) and the South Dakota Small Business Development Center (SBDC).

“Small businesses are the backbone of South Dakota’s economy, and we are committed to help them during this unprecedented period,” said Venky Venkatachalam, Ph.D., dean of the USD Beacom School of Business. “Between our outreach centers who work with thousands of small businesses in South Dakota each year and our expert faculty, we have the ability to support the business community by giving them information and resources they need at this critical time.”

The webinar series was offered as a free service to provide businesses and employees with education to stay informed, safe and healthy. Topics included:

  • Financial Options for Small Businesses During COVID-19
  • Cash Flow Options During a Crisis
  • Managing Stress During Times of Uncertainty
  • Building Your Brand During the COVID-19 Crisis
  • Supply Chain & Inventory Risk
  • Navigating Your Family Business Through a Pandemic (using EOS®)
  • Managing through Change & New Revenue Streams
  • Excel Basics for Small Businesses

 Over 300 people attended the webinars and engaged in active discussions with the Beacom School of Business faculty members. Recordings of the sessions have also been viewed over 400 times by participants unable to attend the live webinar.