VERMILLION, S.D. – More than 50 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 an internship or summer jobs because they were delayed or canceled. USD's Beacom School of Business created the Coyote Business Consulting Group to address both problems, and the results were dynamic.
“As the leading business school in the state, the Beacom School of Business has a responsibility to drive economic development in South Dakota,” said Venky Venkatachalam, Ph.D., dean of the USD 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.”
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 real-world 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 the students and faculty advisors stipends for developing business proposals and plans.
Emily Quinn, an instructor of marketing at Beacom and one of the 13 faculty advisors who participated in the program, directed junior accounting student Ben Merritt, from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and M.B.A. student Katie Paulson from Sisseton, South Dakota. They were tasked to help the Harrisburg Event Center in Harrisburg, South Dakota. Together, they completed a competitive analysis of similar venues in the area and developed an online marketing plan to help the event center draw a wider audience through their social media platforms and website.
“My group exceeded my expectations in all truth,” said co-owner of the Harrisburg Event Center Blake Quien. “The students made it successful. I gave them minimal information to go on, and they ran with it. I felt that they cared about my business. It was very personal, and that is important to me.”
“As an accounting student, a marketing focused project was a little bit out of my comfort zone,” said Merritt. “However, it really helped me to gain an understanding of a parallel field and to develop useful skills that I otherwise wouldn’t have.”
The Coyote Business Consulting Group program was offered to all businesses, but a special emphasis was placed on small businesses, as they are the backbone of the South Dakota’s economy, comprising nearly 60% of the state’s workforce. The program, which was offered at no charge to the businesses, received a total of 70 submissions from companies in 27 counties throughout the state. Students in all levels – undergraduate and graduate – participated in the program and received academic credits. Projects started at the end of May and were completed by the end of July. All groups presented their projects and findings via Zoom on Aug. 3.
“The strength of small businesses has never been more important in this economy,” said Quinn. “If we can utilize all that we know as faculty and students at the Beacom School of Business and offer an ounce of help and assistance, then it will be worth it. It is also beneficial for the business community in South Dakota to know that USD cares about business in South Dakota and is interested in lifting up our students’ strengths to ensure that good business keeps on happening in South Dakota. It’s ‘win-win-win.’”
The Coyote Business Consulting Group program selected 26 businesses across 17 South Dakota
counties to participate in the student-led initiative.