Corporations, nonprofits & Executive MBA students reap rewards from capstone projects

July 29, 2019 - Wendy Martin

For 25 straight years, corporations and nonprofits in Central Virginia have turned to VCU Executive MBA students and faculty to help achieve their most difficult goals. Rather than hire expensive consulting firms, organizations like Dominion Energy, Capital One, Markel Corporation, Philip Morris USA and Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens have paid a relatively modest fee to activate the semester-long services of a five-to-six-person team of Executive MBA students who are completing their final degree requirements. It’s an arrangement that typically benefits all parties.

Each year, VCU Executive MBA teams, led by a faculty advisor with domain knowledge of the particular challenge. undertake six to seven Strategic Dilemmas.

Last February, a business plan created in 2017 by a VCU Executive MBA team was instrumental in Virginia lawmakers passing a state budget with provisions that drastically improve the way the Commonwealth supports members of the legal profession who experience professional impairment due to addiction and mental health issues.

EMBA student offered a board position

This May, after being impressed by an EMBA Strategic Dilemma report prepared on their behalf, Jewish Family Services offered a board position to one of the EMBA students who had served as their consultant.

“Jewish Family Services was trying to grow the number of clients for their care management sector. They wanted to strengthen connections in the community and needed a strong and simple brand identity to articulate all that they offer,” explains Shanaye La Beaud, a people development manager with Elephant Insurance who earned her MBA at VCU in May 2019.

La Beaud and an EMBA team that included Thomas Arrington, Jake Hughes, Jacob Liston and John Norris worked closely with JFS to understand their challenges and how the organization might distinguish itself and its care management services in the marketplace. After preparing a comprehensive report, the team presented their findings to the entire JFS board.

JFS Chief Executive Officer Wendy Kreuter approached La Beaud almost immediately after the presentation. “They were impressed with our results and told me they had openings on their board,” she says. La Beaud joined the JFS board of directors in July.

Why Venture Richmond values consulting work by EMBA students

Venture Richmond is among the organizations that repeatedly have turned to VCU EMBA students for consulting projects. Lucy Meade, their director of economic development and community relations, has a unique perspective on the value of the EMBA Strategic Dilemma Project. She not only “hired” VCU EMBA students to address a strategic dilemma but also earned her MBA at VCU in 1999 after completing a strategic dilemma project of her own.

“What we were interested in was ‘How can Richmond be more competitive in the startup and entrepreneurial space?’ We want more of that in Richmond,” says Meade. “Five students worked on our project. Like any good consultants, they assessed the current local conditions, competition and looked at what other cities were doing.

“They made a number of recommendations that Venture Richmond and other organizations working in this space can consider implementing. It was a smart, thoughtful group. There is always a diversity in knowledge, skills, perspectives and experience with an EMBA team. We were very pleased with the results.”