Student Consulting Projects for Struggling Businesses
ALBA Graduate Business School actively supports vulnerable Greek businesses, helps them overcome challenges created by the financial crisis, and identifies alternatives for growth—all through student consulting projects in which ALBA students are taught how to become agents of change.
Call to Action
The Greek economy is suffering under an ongoing financial crisis that severely affects new, small, and medium businesses. The entrepreneurial environment in Greece is multifaceted and includes family businesses with a long-lasting tradition that are threatened by rapid changes in their markets, established businesses that are struggling with survival, and startups that are trying to grow beyond the seed stage either by exploiting opportunities that arise from the crisis or redefining established markets. These businesses have limited access to professional services and other resources that can help them overcome current challenges and identify alternatives for growth or survival.
At the same time, ALBA Graduate Business School is a nonprofit organization founded by members of the business community in Greece. It has a strong entrepreneurial culture and, in 2009, it founded the ALBA Hub for Entrepreneurship and Development (AHEAD) with the scope, among others, to become an interface for Community Outreach projects.
The motivation behind this innovation therefore is to bridge an urgent market need for the support of vulnerable businesses and ALBA’s mission itself that is to “... educate visionary leaders of tomorrow who will act as agents of change and help shape the future business world ....” We see this as our obligation to give back to the business community now that it requires help. At the same time, it is ALBA’s mission to help its students become agents of change—a unique opportunity to match talent with need within a guided educational process.
The overarching concept of this innovation is to match new, small, and medium businesses that have specific needs to a group of students that will undertake a professional consultancy project. This project may be within a specific course, such as the Marketing Consultancy Project for the MSc in marketing and the New Venture Project for the MSc in entrepreneurship, or an educational visit (field trip) of students from other countries.
These projects are based on the outreach programs that the school offers to the wider entrepreneurial ecosystem. The school approaches business associations, incubators, and businesses within ALBA’s network and asks them to submit a specific business need for the students to work on. Consultancy projects are selected based on maximum impact, following a detailed analysis of the business’s needs, and student team skills. The objective is to deliver a high-quality, professional consultancy report that the business can incorporate into its strategy.
The consultancy process is overseen by academic staff who ensure both academic integrity and student commitment to the client. In the case of ALBA students, the average duration of these projects is two months, while in the case of field trips, foreign students may work for longer periods with their clients. The academic overseeing the process ensures frequent contact between students and their clients, sets specific deliverables, and ensures that all learning objectives for the students are covered. These projects conclude with a formal presentation by the students to their clients.
The project has supported 65 new, small, and medium Greek businesses since its initiation in 2014. These businesses cover a wide range of activities, from agriculture to technology innovations, and represent various stages of enterprising, from three-generation family businesses to seed-stage startups. Twenty of these businesses have been supported by ALBA student teams within courses required for their degrees, while 45 worked with international business students, mainly from the United States.
At the same time, more than 80 students had the opportunity to offer professional consulting services, learn from clients, and prepare specific implementation plans for the proposed interventions. The interventions are implemented in most cases immediately by their clients, as they address a specific need. So, students have the opportunity to observe the results of the actions they proposed and identify possible improvements.
A significant impact of this project is that student teams and businesses remain in contact even after the conclusion of the project. This is especially the case of international students who have worked with Greek businesses within the framework of a field trip, where we observe an ongoing intervention toward the needs of the business. In one specific case, the students invited the business to their university and introduced them to local distributors almost one year after the project had taken place.
In the future, the school expects both the number of businesses participating in this initiative to drastically increase and to see the impact such projects have on students.