Two University of Central Florida graduate student teams picked up awards for consulting projects involving the Florida Small Business Development Center (FSBDC) at UCF clients at the Small Business Institute (SBI®) during its recent 40th Annual Academic Conference in New Orleans. The competition featured student teams from 100 schools across the country.

Graduate students John Dovas, Kiara Dyson and Susan Gaines were awarded second place in the Graduate Comprehensive category for their work with Orlando-based SuperSlow Zone, Inc. The company, a professional service provider of one-on-one personal training instruction, requested the team’s assistance in an analysis of their franchises with regard to marketing and overhead.

A second UCF student team received an honorable mention in the Graduate Specialized category for their work with Winter Springs-based PowerGrid Engineering, LLC. Students Robert O’Dowd, Bianca Duffield, Ashley Monard and Katrina Green worked with the company to develop an internal stakeholder analysis, a competitive analysis of their market segment, as well as an actionable market intelligence report.

“The MBA professionals did an exceptional job pulling together a report referencing our key accounts’ expected capital expenditures. Their report will help forecast Power Grid’s potential revenue opportunities for the next 10 years,” said Andre Uribe, Vice President of Business Development, Power Grid Engineering.

Both teams worked with faculty advisor Dr. Carl Blencke, an instructor for the Department of Management, as part of the MAN 5867 course. Dr. Blencke says the course is open to students outside of the College of Business Administration and that recent classes have included students from engineering, communications and psychology. The mix of majors can make for stronger project teams and business plans.

“I tell students it’s an opportunity to step outside of your comfort zone,” said Dr. Blencke, who, in his second year heading up the program, describes his role as “quarterbacking” the process. “For students, it’s a chance to test your skills in an area you’re not necessarily studying. For example, an engineering student might have to write a marketing plan for the project.”

Dr. Blencke creates the teams, but then it’s up to the students to make them work. The student teams meet with their clients to determine their goals and scope of the project. When complete, the team submits its analysis and recommendation first to Dr. Blencke for a grade, then to the client for review and ultimately to the SBI® competition.

The process gives students the opportunity to work directly with a client and get experience managing a real world project. Over the course of the semester, the students are responsible for providing in-depth analysis, developing solutions and preventing scope creep while also managing the client’s expectations. The project not only enhances the student’s portfolio but in some cases has led to job offers with the companies involved, Dr. Blencke said.

The Florida SBDC at UCF, in conjunction with the UCF College of Business Administration, manages the SBI® program locally to recruit and evaluate FSBDC clients for the program, lend FSBDC business consultants as SBI® case supervisors, and provide a range of guidance and support. The Florida SBDC is part of the UCF Office of Research and Commercialization (ORC).

“The SBI program is an important part of UCF academics and our entrepreneurial ecosystem in connecting theory to real-world application,” said Dr. Tom O’Neal, associate vice president of the UCF ORC. “Carl and the FSBDC at UCF have done an outstanding job in mentoring students to achieve their goals and work alongside local companies.”

Celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2016, the SBDC Network provides consulting, training and information to help small businesses grow and succeed. The Florida SBDC at UWF and UCF are part of a statewide network of more than 40 centers involving universities, state colleges and dozens of local economic development organizations that serve the needs of Florida’s business community.

“I congratulate the Florida SBDC at UWF, the Florida SBDC at UCF and the graduate student teams for this prestigious honor,” said Michael Myhre, Florida SBDC Network CEO and State Director. “The SBI® awards are a testament to the partnership of Florida SBDCs and their host partner institutions. Our student teams complement our certified professional business consultants that bring invaluable opportunity for both our students in applied learning and client businesses with access to young talent.”