Categorized | Shoestring Startup

MoreMarbles: University consulting, a win for students and businesses alike

Andrew Allen

Andrew Allen

A Problem: Andrew Allen always thought there was a better way to learn than the traditional text book and exam model used in schools. Looking for more than theory and concepts, Andrew wanted to apply his learning in the real world and understand why they mattered.

Andrew completed high school and college and took a job with KPMG’s Advisory Services in the Silicon Valley, where he worked with Fortune 1000 companies from across the country. Andrew later joined Opportunity Fund, a microfinance organization that provides capital to low-income entrepreneurs. As Andrew met with each newly-approved business owner, he was fascinated by their passion, work-ethic and vision. Many of these businesses succeeded. Yet, despite some of the best intentions, some businesses failed. It became apparent that capital alone was not enough for a business to be successful. Every business, whether a Fortune 1000 company or a three-person venture, needs outside perspective, good talent and a solid strategy.

An Epiphany: It was during Andrew’s subsequent MBA experience at Thunderbird, that he had a realization: the lack of relevance and practicality in education and the business owner’s need for new ideas and perspective, could be solved at the same time! The solution? MoreMarbles. More Marbles

MoreMarbles connects businesses and nonprofits with university consulting teams to get help in marketing, strategy and operations. In a capstone course, university students form teams and are assigned to a real client. The client presents a challenge they are facing, and the team carries out a semester-long project (up to 500 hours of work) to find solutions and offer recommendations. The professor acts as a mentor to the team, and students have full access to a wide array of university resources, such as trade journals, databases, industry experts and of course, their own previous work and educational backgrounds. Different from an internship or freelance work, the students receive a grade for their work, based on the quality of their research and recommendations.

The benefits from this model are numerous:

  • Students apply their learning in a real-world situation, for a real organization. Projects serve as great resume-builders and give the students the opportunity to explore various fields and industries. The project itself may lead to an internship or full-time offer from the client.
  • Businesses get access to top talent and new ideas to help them solve challenges and grow. Much less expensive than a consulting firm, and much more effective than an intern, a university consulting team combines experience and ideas from 4 students, the experience of their professor, and a wide range of resources found only on university campuses. Projects also serve as a “try before you buy” approach to recruiting, allowing businesses to hire based on performance and not just on a resume or interview.

Students win. Businesses win. 18 million students in the U.S. can now answer the question “Why does this matter?” 20 million businesses now have new access to top talent and bright minds to solve their challenges and help them grow.

A Solution: While at Thunderbird, Andrew participated in various university consulting projects. “The projects were challenging,” Andrew says, “especially because we knew our clients were looking for real answers to their challenges. But every project was a great learning experience.” Through further research, it became apparent that business schools across the country were beginning to implement this model. Unfortunately, few businesses knew about it and most schools struggled to find enough clients each semester. Not only did professors need enough clients, they needed the right types of projects to match their course objectives. This requires a lot of work and outreach from the professors. As one professor stated, “I wasn’t trained to be a salesman!” Some professors ask students to find their own clients. Some professors stick to hypothetical projects, to avoid having to find real clients. Other schools have hired part-time and full-time staff to find companies for them.

But according to Andrew, there’s an easier solution: It’s; a marketplace where professors create a profile, businesses post a project and the two parties connect and work together. It’s the eHarmony for Business and Academia! Once their project is posted, businesses will see a list of the schools and professors that match their criteria. Professors also see in their MoreMarbles account the list of businesses in need of their help. Professors set the price they charge for the project, businesses pay through the website and the university team carries out the project.

A Company: MoreMarbles ran a pilot in early 2010 with three universities and eight companies. Six months later, MoreMarbles made an official launch and currently has 18 universities in its network, with the combined capacity to serve over 200 businesses and nonprofits every year. With over thirty projects currently in the pipeline, MoreMarbles plans to serve 100 businesses within its first twelve months of operation. The company will be profitable in its first year.

Andrew is happy with the progress so far, but feels that MoreMarbles is only at the tip of the iceberg. He explains, “Around the nation, people are talking about how to fix education, and how to bolster the economy. While MoreMarbles doesn’t pretend to be a silver bullet solution, what a wonderfully simple, yet effective way to prepare students to enter the workforce and get excited about learning, while giving businesses the boost they need to grow and be successful.” In the next few years, MoreMarbles sees its network of schools growing into the hundreds, while serving tens of thousands of businesses every year. Whether you’re a businesses looking for extra help, research or new ideas; or a professor looking to provide incredible learning opportunities for students, got to today and get started!

Andrew Allen
Founder, MoreMarbles

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