Columbia Team Two got a taste of unorthodox business tactics from the get-go in New Orleans. A classmate had connected the students with shrimping company A La Carte Specialty Foods, a firm that was not chock-full of market research data like the case studies the students were accustomed to working with in the classroom. They had to create their own.
The team hit the parking lot of a local grocer to source data. After finding little interest among shoppers, the team brought in a “bribery” technique. Participating survey takers were given popsicles, which greatly increased the response rate and findings.
“The small business life teaches you to be scrappy,” team member Sam Wollner says. “You have to learn how to solve problems without all of the resources.”
A CRASH COURSE ON MAKING BOOZE
After a two-week stint helping a downtown revitalization startup in Las Vegas, the team arrived in Butte, Montana, where they were forced to tap into their roots of ingenuity and quick learning again. This time it was in the form of finding out how an alcohol still works, to develop marketing communications strategies for Headframe Spirits. With the help of a crash-course on stills from the master distiller, the team was able to give recommendations on how to expand customer reach and build brand credibility.
“We learned what it really means to be adaptive and have adaptability,” says team member Annie Koo. “These entrepreneurs are making real-time decisions that are very important with minimal data. And they are okay with it. As an MBA, those practices can make you uncomfortable at first.”
Columbia team One began in New Orleans helping technology startup Zlien reframe their thoughts on pricing. They then experienced the small-town feel of Rogers, Arkansas before moving on to Corrales, New Mexico, then to Denver, Fargo and Detroit. Team member Jasmine Ainetchian said the experience was more than she thought it would ever be—in every sense.
“There is so much support for startups all around the country,” Ainetchian says, reflecting on a One Million Cups experience in Denver. The team had found no shortage of diversity among their entrepreneurs. They worked with tech companies, a water conservation startup, a brewery, and an outdoor furniture company. The lessons were similar throughout.
“None of this was something you can learn in business school,” says Ainetchian. “There is no cookie-cutter solution. There’s no boss. We wanted to make the biggest impact we could and answer each entrepreneur’s biggest question in a week and it was a challenge.”
TREATED LIKE FAMILY IN ARKANSAS
Throughout the journey, students discovered that entrepreneurs and community members were eager to give back. The team was hosted for meals by Fargo Brewing Company and Emerging Prairie owners while in North Dakota. They were taken in “as family” in northwest Arkansas. They were invited to climb a mountain outside of Denver with Gociety.
“We were truly shown what is happening in North Dakota and Denver and other places and how people are stepping up in big ways to create something,” Ainetchian says. “It is different than making decisions for Fortune 500 companies. The livelihood of the entrepreneurs is at stake. We left Rogers (Arkansas) wondering if we suggested the right tools and strategies for the man we worked with to continue to be able to provide for his family and his family support and be proud of him.”