Every fall semester at the University of South Carolina, the South Carolina Small Business Development Centers and students from the Darla Moore School of Business collaborate to assist South Carolina companies. This applied learning benefits every student enrolled in the business school’s Global Competitive Analysis course. Led by Wolfgang Messner, clinical professor of international business, this course is unique in that it is aligned with the International Business Education Alliance cohort program — a collaboration of four leading business schools including the University of South Carolina, ESSEC Business School (France and Singapore), FGV EBAPE Escola Brasileira de Administração Pública e de Empresas (Brazil) and the University of Mannheim (Germany).
Students selected for the IBEA program comprise a cohort with the opportunity to gain hands-on global management experience across four continents. Over the span of two years, these international business and management majors spend one semester at each of the participating institutions where they collaborate on a real-world project with a corporate partner.
Messner’s Global Competitive Analysis course is the IBEA’s project option for the U.S. semester — and it is available exclusively to the program’s 40-student cohort.
“This is as real as it gets,” said Messner. “The curriculum transcends book learning and classroom lectures with practical, real-world experience. During these consulting projects, students gain first-hand experience in analyzing a bona fide business challenge and recommending innovative, value-added solutions to the client company.”
For 14 weeks, teams of 4-6 students work alongside SC SBDC business consultants to engage with a real client, analyze the company’s industry landscape, conduct a market analysis, develop an implementation plan and deliver recommendations in a formal presentation.
“This has been a highly successful program for 12 years,” said SC SBDC State Director Michele Abraham. “Since the initiative hinges on attracting South Carolina companies willing to participate, the SC SBDC contacts clients who have expressed a strong interest in expanding their footprint or who are facing business turbulences. We then pair the company with a student team that will assess their capacity to compete locally and globally."
In the fall 2021 semester, one group examined the exporting potential of Clayton Squared Industries, a Lexington, South Carolina-based medical device company that produces PPE equipment. The company’s founders, CEO Brad Clayton and COO Clayton Embelton, initially approached SC SBDC Senior Business Consultant Beth Smith seeking her help with developing a "go-to-market" strategy for their proprietary Powered-Air Purifying Respirator C2BREATHE, which they hope to launch officially in 2022.
Smith, a long-time proponent of this joint initiative between the SC SBDC and the Moore School, recruited her client for Messner’s program and facilitated the working relationship between C2 and the 6-person student project team.
After examining the business’ value proposition, analyzing the feasibility of various distribution channels and assessing the market environment, the students presented their findings and recommendations to the client; they see potential for the C2BREATHE in markets beyond the health care sector, such as the pharmaceutical, agricultural and food/beverage industries, and recommended that C2 adopt an online sales model.
Clayton and Embelton said they greatly appreciate the time and effort the team invested in analyzing C2’s numerous and complex problems.
“The final presentation was highly professional and impressive. It was obvious that the team conducted extensive research,” said Clayton. “In fact, based on their suggestions, we are reassessing C2’s distribution and pricing strategies.”
For the SC SBDC, this positive response was typical of participating businesses.
“Clients are consistently impressed by the caliber of the final reports the consulting teams produce,” said Abraham. “In fact, companies usually implement at least some of the solutions proposed. With both the client companies and students benefitting, this course is the epitome of a win-win situation.”
One member of the student team, Anna Nelson, says that working with C2 was a wonderful educational experience.
“I enjoyed researching an industry which I previously knew nothing about [medical PPE]. It makes me excited to think about the variety of consulting projects I will work on in the future, and what I will learn about many different industries.”
According to Messner, the Global Competitive Analysis course transforms lives by equipping students with the hands-on skills, leadership experience and the confidence they need to succeed following graduation.
"The close partnerships developed by the SC SBDC with the business community make these career-shaping opportunities possible. It certainly helps to keep the Moore School on the frontier of international business education and justifies our consistent No.1 ranking in international business by U.S. News & World Report.”
Any company wishing to participate in graduate and postgraduate level student analysis projects can contact their local SC SBDC.