Students win for real world clients

By Will Gallagher

For the first time in 15 years, Rider’s entrepreneurship students brought home a win — in the form of two first-place trophies.

In February, two teams of Rider entrepreneurship students, one undergraduate and one graduate business administration, went to Las Vegas to compete as finalists in the Small Business Institute (SBI) Consulting Project of the Year competition. The event required students to create consulting plans for real-world institutions.

From left, Dr. Ron Cook, Kai Wright, Caroline Romanelli and Kristin Lopez, hold their first-place award from the Small Business Institute Consulting Project of the Year Competition.
From left, Dr. Ron Cook, Kai Wright, Caroline Romanelli and Kristin Lopez, hold their first-place award from the Small Business Institute Consulting Project of the Year Competition.

Kimberly Cook, a secondary education major; Jeremy Hopewell, a business administration major; and Matthew Nowlin, a business administration major, were three of the graduate students who participated in the event.

“I would say our success came from our ability to work together as a team, and leveraging our individual strengths to support each other to deliver an outstanding final product for the client,” said Kimberly Cook.

According to SBI’s website, it was formed in 1976 and is the premier organization dedicated to field-based student consulting and outreach to small businesses.

Dr. Ron Cook, director of SBI and the students’ professor, said the double win was a memorable moment.

“When I found out both teams were in the top three, I was delighted,” Cook said. “When I found out we had a double national winner, I was literally speechless. It has been 15 years since a Rider team won this competition, and to have a double winner was amazing.”

The competitors were similarly excited by the news of their wins.

“When I found out we were finalists, I basically ran around my office telling everyone and their mother,” said Nowlin. “After it was announced that we had won, I was pretty much stunned. I just glanced around at my teammates and Dr. Cook, excitedly mouthing, ‘We won. We won.’”

According to Cook, the projects took about 13 weeks and were approximately 60 to 100 pages long. They were judged on depth of analysis, value to the client, process of implementation and professional appearance, among other categories. The projects are also shown to the clients that they are based on at the end of the semester. This year, the students chose to consult with the Breast Cancer Resource Center, part of the Princeton Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), and Spruce Industries of Rahway, N.J.

Although Rider is fairly small, and only helps three to four firms a year, compared to larger schools who serve 25 or more a year, the students were still able to pull for first.

“It was amazing to hear about all the other projects against which we were competing,” said Nowlin. “The competition and the work they did were all very impressive. So I guess I would say it seemed a bit intimidating at first — you know, until we won.”

Cook said that the teams’ hard work paid off.

“It is a credit to the students that we have bested much larger SBI programs, and that Rider’s SBI is considered an outstanding SBI program by my colleagues in the association,” said Cook. He feels the entrepreneurship program is one of Rider’s “crown jewels.”

Past years at the competition speak to the program’s success as well, with Rider coming in the top three several times in the last few years.

“I was so happy for the students as they know that they were judged to be the best of the best – and it is not just that I thought they did a great job, but an outside group agreed with the quality of their projects,” said Cook. “It was a moment that the students won’t forget.”

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