Course engages with Chicago’s microenterprise community
By Adriana Geday | Student reporter
For almost 25 years, students in Quinlan's Microenterprise Consulting course have been helping businesses and nonprofits in economically disadvantaged areas of Chicago succeed through tailored consulting and business plan development.
The course has cast a wide net in the Chicago business community. More than 150 organizations—ranging from organizations committed to combating food insecurity to a nonprofit beauty salon primarily serving African American women—have served as course clients.
“The true value of this course is representing Quinlan through outreach towards the community,” says Stacy Neier Beran, senior lecturer in marketing. “This course works in sync with Quinlan’s values and social justice mission.”
Neier Beran began teaching the course this semester and builds on the legacy of the previous instructors: Mike Welch and Jill Graham, course founder and professor emeritus, both from Quinlan’s Department of Management.
Learning an invaluable skill set
Each semester, student teams with an equal mix of undergraduates and graduates form a consulting team and work directly with a client organization to assess their needs. By the end of the semester, the students deliver a complete business plan and presentation.
This semester, clients include:
- My African Toy Puzzle Truck: A company that designs, manufactures, and sells environmentally friendly durable wooden toys.
- Karla’s Kitchen: A restaurant business centered on Belizean food.
- Mindful Baking: A wholesale bakery serving gluten-free vegan pastries, and baked goods.
- Revive Consignment: A women’s clothing shop designed to bring affordable new and gently used women’s and maternity clothing to Rogers Park.
- Iconic Staff Solutions: A startup interested in providing staffing solutions for certified information technology professionals.
“At the end of the day, anybody can learn how to prepare a cash flow statement, but understanding the nuances of a consultative partnership is the core and hallmark of this class,” says Neier Beran.
Sadia Anees (BBA ’14), an alumna who participated in the course in 2014 and now works as a management consultant at West Monroe Partners, LLC, agrees.
“There's a core set of skills that this class taught me: project management, external communication, critical thinking, and teamwork,” says Anees. “It also gave me a sense of what entrepreneurship is like and the work it takes to turn an idea into a plan.”
While in the course, Anees worked with the Hair Artisan, a startup salon seeking to offer specialized services for African American hair and educational programs for young girls on how to care for and maintain their hair. Anees’ team developed a comprehensive business plan and gave their client details on the current environment, operational information, a marketing strategy, and a financial analysis.
“Each part of the business plan was carefully crafted and very detailed to fit our client's business,” she says.
A course rooted in engaged learning
The microenterprise course exemplifies the importance of engaged learning as it invites students to be in the field, working directly with the client, and making a difference in the lives of these small business owners.
“The course introduces students to the unfortunate reality of unfulfilled dreams and unsuccessful business ventures and allows them to apply their knowledge and skill set to make those dreams come true for these small businesses,” says Neier Beran.
Anees adds, “It's deeply rewarding. It's more than just a class that I took in college. The clients that are chosen for this class are people within the community that have found a need and have a vision—our role was to make that vision achievable while aligning our values at Quinlan.”
Vision for the future
As the course continues toward its third decade, Neier Beran has two major goals:
“My first goal for this course is to expand Quinlan’s relationship with the Rogers Park and Edgewater communities, which is also a key goal in Loyola’s strategic plan, Plan 2020,” says Neier Beran. “Quinlan students should be out in the Loyola community helping small businesses thrive while also establishing lasting relationships.”
“I also want to help maintain and foster the relationships with entrepreneurs we’ve helped in the past and the alumni of the course.”