The three business consultants sitting in Nancy Guillen's commercial insurance office got straight to work Wednesday, running through a list of competitors, reviewing client retention rates and pushing her to play up her leadership with civic organizations.
“We want to make sure that your clients know that about you, that you bring your best to the table, and that is what you are going to do if they need insurance,” said Jessica Marroquin as she took notes.
It was advice for which some firms charge high hourly rates. Guillen didn't pay a penny.
True Integrity Insurance Services is one of four small local businesses benefiting from a new collaboration between Woodbury University's MBA program and the Burbank Chamber of Commerce. In its inaugural cycle, students enrolled in a summer entrepreneurship class have been matched with local businesses to function as full-service consultants.
They conduct market research, develop business plans and design advertising and marketing strategies, among other things. The students' work will be summarized, packaged and delivered to their clients next month, and potentially used to secure bank loans and drive revenue.
“There are so many businesses right now that are in need of what these students can do for them,” said Paul Sabolic, a long-time Woodbury adjunct professor who helped get the initiative off the ground.
Modeled after similar programs at USC and Pepperdine University, it immediately generated strong interest within the local business community, Sabolic said. The program serves to build relationships while also giving students invaluable experience.
“We can sit there and talk about financials and breaking even, but here they are now getting to, and calculating, it for a business,” Sabolic said. “We can talk about creating a fake business plan, but we have two of the companies now doing real business plans.”
Chamber President Gary Olson noted that the program builds on a long-standing relationship with Woodbury University. The plan is to continue it into future semesters.
“We are very pleased with the response received from our members who have expressed a very strong desire to participate,” Olson said.
As Guillen likes to put it, she started True Integrity Insurance Services three years ago with “four bare walls and two paper clips.” She described the student consultants' knowledge and time as a “huge gift.”
“We've been able to build our clientele from scratch,” Guillen said. “But we are at that crossroads where we need to take the next step, which is the pivotal step to move forward. Yet we don't have the finances to be able to take this gigantic step.”
Her student consultants noted that she will be able to use her soon-to-be-completed business plan to secure a loan or attract clients. And the work experience they have gained is payment in and of itself, they said.
“It is real-life experience that we take with us in our future careers,” Marroquin said.