Rider students recognized in national business competition

Group finishes in top 10 for Small Business Institute Consulting Project of the Year
Megan Lupo

There’s nothing small about Rider’s Small Business Institute (SBI).

A group of students from the institute finished in the top 10 of a national competition sponsored by the national organization of the Small Business Institute.

David Ferrao ’18, Nicholas Chiarolanzio ’18, Francesca Karpicki ’18 and senior arts administration major Michelle Belain were recently recognized for their consulting report in the SBI Consulting Project of the Year (POY) competition.

The University’s undergraduate team worked together on this project through a class taught by Associate Dean of Graduate Programs Director Ronald Cook. In the class, students act as consultants for real small businesses or organizations.

“They were excellent students and a wonderful example of the best that we offer,” Cook says. “As I have said many times before, I believe that our students can compete with anybody.”

This most recently recognized student team chose Spruce Industries as their client. The company is a supplier of cleaning and janitorial products, chemicals and tools.

“The project was to research the feasibility of Spruce offering a service within the recycling industry that could provide an opportunity to further differentiate Spruce from its competitors, as well as reinforce Spruce’s green initiative,” Cook says.  

The national SBI Association hosts annual conferences, where schools throughout the country, including Rider’s SBI chapter, enter students’ consulting projects into different categories that are then evaluated and ranked by judges.

Awarding the best student-based projects around the country, the judges from the SBI Association look for the quality of the research and writing, the rationality of the recommendations, and the viability of the implementation plan, amongst other criteria, for the popular POY category.

Cook says that although Rider’s undergraduate team were not declared national finalists, to be considered in the country’s top 10 still epitomizes the “tradition of excellence” that the University continues to have within the competition.  

After Cook founded Rider’s SBI 25 years ago, students in the program began competing in 1998, where they have reached considerable success throughout the years.

“Not counting this year yet, Rider students have won 32 top 10 national finishes, including five national titles, six second-place finishes and five third-place finishes,” Cook says. “The competition is intense as Rider competes against some schools, who require an SBI project in certain majors and programs and have more than 25 projects from which to select their best one to send to the POY competition.”

In addition to observing the competition as a professor and director of Rider’s SBI, Cook served as a judge for categories separate from his entries, allowing him to gain a deeper admiration of the quality and effort that students put into their projects to make them stand out.

“The students did an exceptional job of evaluating possible methods for a firm to differentiate itself from its competitors,” Cook says. “The students first understood the firm's needs and then devised a consulting to address those needs. There was a logical flow to the study and its conclusions.”

An invaluable resource for the team that helped guide them throughout the initial assignments was volunteer business mentor Marion Zajac, who works with Rider’s entrepreneurial studies consulting teams and attended the team’s weekly meetings with Cook.

“Dr. Cook and Marion were so knowledgeable and experienced,” Karpicki says. “They really helped to give us insight and opened our eyes to paths that we didn’t even think to investigate at first. Without their questions and insight, we wouldn’t have been able to produce as great of a consulting report.”

Reflecting on the competition and working on the semester-long project with her team, Karpicki says it was one of the most important moments of her college career.

“It was really amazing,” she says. “I got to meet some amazing and intelligent individuals all while being able to try a career path that I am interested in following. This was one of the most rewarding experience I had during my undergrad, and I am thankful.”