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UM entrepreneurship students get hands-on experience helping South Florida businesses

World of Beer

Matt Lull, co-owner, World of Beer franchise (second from left), with student consultants Juan Pablo Aguirre (left) and (left to right) Shannen Quinn, Javier Rodriguez, Edgardo Jaramillo, and Joseph Lopez

By Rochelle Broder-Singer

Choosing restaurant locations is often more about gut feelings and anecdotal evidence than quantitative data, and a large World of Beer franchise group in South Florida wanted to change that. Company partner Matt Lull believed the group could make better decisions about restaurant locations by examining data from successful World of Beers locations around the U.S. It wasn’t something the group could do on its own, though. Rather than turn to an expensive consulting firm, he turned to the students in a Student Entrepreneurial Consulting course at the University of Miami School of Business. The course puts teams of student consultants to work on real problems for client companies.

For World of Beer, five students gathered reams of data from the company, figured out which pieces were relevant to the success of individual locations, and created a statistical model that will help identify future successful locations.

“It’s fun to work with a team who have freshly trained minds and remember what they were taught in Statistical Analysis 101, perhaps,” said Lull, who along with other business owners participating in the program, came together with their student consultants to celebrate the close of the program April 17.

“It’s an interesting experiment for us to apply the academic skills to what is really an industry that is run by the gut in a lot of ways. We’re going to probably bet seven figures worth of money based, in part, on what the team is helping us figure out.”

The consulting projects are part of the capstone course for the entrepreneurship major at the UM School of Business. This year, it grew to 10 client companies – all but nine of them run by UM alumni. For the clients, it’s a way to give back to their alma mater, interact with a new generation of potential customers and employees and receive important help for their business.

“The School of Business is trying to make business education as international, entrepreneurial and relevant as possible,” said Gene Anderson, dean of the UM School of Business. “Getting our students out into the world, where you can see how learning in the classroom applies, is important. You can learn about marketing over there, about accounting over there, about operations over there – but when you get out in the real world, you’ve got to put those things together.”

In addition to World of Beers, student consulting teams worked with South Florida companies including artist Xavier Cortada, Holstein Housewares, the Miami City Ballet, the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Miami franchise of moving company College Hunks Hauling Junk, Pasha’s restaurants and Edda’s Cake Company. They also worked with Austin, Texas-based Phunware, a mobile app company that was recently named to Forbes’ list of “Americas Most Promising Companies.”

PhunwareThe Phunware consultants analyzed competitors and performed SWOT (strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats) assessments for two new markets the company plans to enter: the automotive industry and the entertainment industry. Phunware, which recently raised a $30 million round of venture capital, “gets to give them the Silicon Valley treatment, like I’ve received over the years,” says CEO Alan Knitowski, a UM alumnus. “No one cares about age or background or anything. It’s all about massive ideas.” Although the student consultants haven’t yet presented their findings to Knitowski, he expects their work will help the company determine which of the two markets to enter first.

Phunware’s student consultants relished the opportunity to work with a fast-growing tech star. “We were all excited to work with a company like Phunware that’s really respected in the mobile industry,” said senior Alex Ostbye. “It’s exciting to get a project to work with in school that has real-life meaning, and we’re trying to do our best to help the company. We really do appreciate them looking at it really hard.”

Photo above: Alan Knitowski, chairman, CEO and co-founder, Phunware (center) with student consultants Alex Cantwell (left) and Roy Ishakov