University of Tulsa students participated in a unique business course during spring 2018 that took them from a classroom on campus to a board room in Prague. Two master’s students and 18 undergraduate students from various majors were enrolled in the faculty-led study abroad course that was designed to take them through the process of creating a complete business plan for a company seeking to expand into the United States.
Via Skype, the students met with Gioba, a consultancy that represented the client, Bageterie Boulevard. BB is a chain of sandwich shops headquartered in the Czech Republic with locations in several other countries. The meetings were held during class throughout the semester, and the course culminated with a presentation of a well-sourced business plan to company executives in May.
The course was led by Collins College of Business Professors Joel Harper and Mike Troilo, who specialize in finance and international business at TU. The faculty guided students throughout the process and accompanied them on the weeklong trip to Prague, where they linked up with Gioba staff who assisted them with polishing their presentation and arranged tours of the city sights.
“Combining the study abroad aspects with a real-world project was a valuable experience,” Harper said. “We acted as guides but really left it to the students to explore different options and use what they’ve learned from all their TU classes – finance, marketing, management – to put things together.”
Check out available faculty-led study abroad programs.
Faculty encourage students to lead
Joel Moffitt, an MBA student from Tulsa who’s planning to work as an auditor, said the professors struck the right balance between teaching, advising and giving students room to make their own decisions. “They really wanted us to take the reins,” he said. “When the company executives were asking us questions, we knew the right answers because we had done all the work ourselves.”
The students divided into teams, each charged with different aspects of preparing the business plan. Project leaders Thomas Kerwin of Dallas and Tori Patrock of Tulsa worked on team coordination and ensured the presentation and supporting documentation were delivered on time.
“We were guiding the teams along the right path, making sure everyone met their deadlines. We guided the class each Wednesday, providing structure for everybody to make things work efficiently,” Kerwin said. “There were some struggles along the way, but it was all part of a great learning experience. I had never had the chance to do anything like this before – consulting with a foreign firm – and they really seemed to care about our input and the work we did this semester.”
Daniel Owens, the youngest student in the class, said learning to work with a large group from different backgrounds and majors was invaluable. “In my previous classes, it’s generally been four or five people working on a consulting project. So, going through a massive amount of information and coming up with a large business presentation were not tasks familiar to me,” he said. “It was really awesome to see student leaders step up and delegate tasks.”
The students provided Bageterie Boulevard with economic analysis, industry analysis and competitive analysis. They also explored marketing strategies (product, price, place and promotion) and financial projections and conducted a risk analysis for a five-year business plan.
“We were unsure how they would respond to our suggestions and ideas,” Owens said. “It was really satisfying that all our research over the past four or five months was being taken into consideration for their entry strategy.”
Learn more about TU’s international business and finance programs.
Networking with entrepreneurs
In addition to several tourist activities, the students spent three days in Prague at various firms meeting with executives who gave them an overview of the changing Czech economy. Representatives from NGOs, automaker Skoda, digital marketer Socialbakers, smoothie restaurant Fruitisimo and others gave students a behind-the-scenes look at what they do and allowed them to ask questions about foreign innovation and entrepreneurship opportunities.
“The study abroad portion of this trip has helped me see that Prague is not just a tourist destination. There are so many start-ups,” said Patrock, who had visited the Czech Republic previously. “The program did a good job of exposing us to organizations and companies that we can network with in the future.”
“The nature of consulting is ambiguity. Overall, I think the project went very well based on the dialogue with our client and the interest our client showed in the students after the presentation,” Troilo said. “We are looking forward to doing this again. It’s been the most successful study abroad trip we’ve had. We had a waiting list of students. As a professor of international business, I’m a real champion of study abroad.”
Study abroad inspires
Teresa Stastny, an Omaha, Nebraska, native who visited 11 countries including Brazil, Ireland and Panama through TU’s Center for Global Education (CGE), said the university makes it easy to study abroad whether for a week, a month or a semester. The weeklong trip to Prague featured a compressed schedule in which students learned about the Czech business environment and that country’s take on foreign affairs. “It was definitely worthwhile,” Stastny said. “I’d like to get to know Prague a little bit better. It’s a beautiful city with a lot of history while also being very modern.”
Students were treated to traditional Czech meals and even squeezed an evening of musical theater in between the time they spent finalizing their presentation and visiting with corporate and nonprofit leaders.
Owens said he appreciated the dedication of CGE and Gioba toward making the course such a success. “We learned a lot about the culture in the Czech Republic,” he said. “It was inspiring to listen to the entrepreneurs and then translating that back to our lives at The University of Tulsa and how we can develop our international business skills and cross-cultural skills.”