More than 600 Treasure Valley businesses and organizations turned to Boise State University this spring to help them improve practices and combat an ailing economy. As the semester comes to a close, students, faculty members and experts have presented many of them with real-time plans to help boost business.
As part of Boise State’s priority to help local businesses and organizations weather the economic storm, the College of Business and Economics (COBE) launched the Business Research and Economic Development Center in January. The center is a one-stop-shop for the local business community to tap into the expertise of Boise State faculty members and other specialists. The center’s Spring 2009 Economic Turnaround Initiative was a concerted effort to positively impact at least 200 of them before summer. Response to the college’s invitation to help was well received, and it has since engaged with 617 Treasure Valley businesses and organizations.
Business faculty and their students took on 102 class projects and 15 consulting projects, the TECenter assisted 22 callers with high-tech entrepreneurial ventures, and 478 others connected with small business and manufacturing experts in the Idaho Small Business Development Center and TechHelp to meet their specific needs. COBE even assembled a group of recent MBA graduates to offer free consulting.
Rob Anson, a professor of information technology, acted as consultant for five teams of students in ITM 490, a senior capstone project class for information technology majors. The students did everything from system development to cost benefit analysis for their clients.
They included the Boise City/Ada County Housing Authority, an agency that has helped provide housing options for low- and moderate-income residents in Ada County for 42 years. That means administering federal housing programs and managing multiple properties owned by the agency – and being inundated with paperwork. The agency was considering purchasing a document imaging system to scan and convert the paperwork to electronic images.
“We didn’t have the manpower or the resources to even explore it,” said director Lisa Steele. The Boise State students did a workflow analysis, shadowing employees to determine how to integrate the system into their daily work, contacted housing authorities throughout the country to see what systems worked best for them, completed a cost-benefit analysis, pre-screened vendors and even drew up a request for proposals to get the purchase process under way.
“I was completely blown away by the quality of their work, their professionalism and the thoroughness of their research,” Steele said.
Anson estimates his five student projects alone would have cost the organizations a combined $25,000 if they had to pay for the services. In addition to the benefits the organizations received, his students also gained.
“They now have experience working with a real client on a real project with real constraints,” Anson said. “In an academic exercise you can redefine things at will, but in the real business world variables change as you move through a project.”
Other clients this spring included numerous for-profit businesses, as well as quasi-public agencies like the Ada County Paramedics, an agency that receives less than a third of its budget from public funds. A student team worked alongside marketing professor Gary McCain to offer new ideas.
“Not surprisingly, the economy has had an impact on health care across the board and our agency is simply part of that,” says Ada County Paramedics director Troy Hagen. Many area residents have lost jobs and health insurance and are not seeking medical care even if they need it. His agency is looking to publicize its membership program in hopes of curbing that trend. “We’re seeking third-party input into our marketing strategies for a fresh perspective from young budding professionals for a variety of different reasons. Some of it is for validation of our current processes and also to see if there’s something we can be doing better.”
While the spring initiative was directed at making an immediate impact, the center will serve as a permanent coordinating entity for all COBE outreach efforts, including the Idaho Small Business Development Center, TechHelp, TECenter, Centre for Creativity and Innovation, Idaho Council on Economic Education, Center for Entrepreneurship, and The Economic Forecast Project.