CBA students win first place at national Small Business Institute competition

Two teams of entrepreneurship students learned they won at the annual conference in Las Vegas
Aimee LaBrie
Ron Cook with the undergraduate first-place winners (from left to right) Kai Wright, Caroline Romanelli and Kristin Lopez

Ron Cook with the undergraduate first-place winners (from left to right) Kai Wright, Caroline Romanelli and Kristin Lopez

Last semester, two teams of entrepreneurship students learned that they were national finalists in the Small Business Institute Consulting Project of the Year competition. This past weekend at the annual conference in Las Vegas, both teams won first place; making it the first time ever that a Rider MBA team won, the second time a Rider undergraduate team has ever finished first and the only time that both teams were the top winners in their categories in a single year. Those students placed first among more than 200 competitors from around the country. 

The competing undergraduate students were Kristin Lopez, Kai Wright and Caroline Romanelli (all entrepreneurship majors who graduated last year) and the competing graduate students were MBA graduates Matt Nowlin, Brian Janovsky and Jeremy Hopewell, as well as current MBA student Kimberly Cook. The two teams produced reports as part of consulting classes taught by Dr. Ron Cook. 

Cook, Rider’s SBI director and the students’ instructor, explains the magnitude of this accomplishment. “To have one champion is amazing but to have dual national champs in a single year is almost unbelievable, and the students were simply outstanding,” he says.

This accomplishment speaks to the ongoing success that the College of Business Administration’s Center for Entrepreneurial Studies and Small Business Institute has had in preparing students for these events. Since 1998, with the support of the Rider SBI’s corporate sponsor, Grand Bank in Hamilton, N.J., the SBI has garnered 24 top 10 or better national finishes in this competition, including national titles. 

Finalists were chosen based on reports they created that were focused on a real world consulting project with a local business or organization. In this case, the client for the undergraduate report was the Breast Cancer Resource Center, which is part of the Princeton YWCA, and the client for the graduate students was Spruce Industries, located in Rahway, N.J. In preparing their reports, students were required to meet with the clients, understand their needs, create a consulting contract, conduct the analysis and prepare findings.

The final competition was judged by a rigorous 100 point scale that examined several different aspects of the report: thoroughness and depth of analysis, value of the information to the client, logic of the analysis, clarity and justification for the recommendations, clear implementation of the procedures, effectiveness of the executive summary, professionalism of the writing, and overall conciseness and clarity of the final product.

Cook emphasizes the degree of difficulty in placing, let alone winning this competition. “The reports are judged by three independent individuals, and students are competing against numerous other universities whose students are among the best of the best.”

The process of putting together the reports provides students with the kind of active learning they cannot get from just listening to a classroom lecture on consulting, or practicing on a hypothetical case. “Students have to come into this project with a mindset of inquiry, saying, ‘I need to understand what’s going with this company and keep myself open to all options.’ In creating these reports, they are learning to how to advocate for the client—how to find the best solution,” Cook explains. “Developing this kind of critical thinking is a vital skill, one that can transfer to the workforce, to an entrepreneurial situation, or to almost any kind of learning environment.”