Jindal School Students Gain Consulting Experience in Collaborative Class Project

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This semester, a group of Naveen Jindal School of Management graduate students served as consultants to Cyber Group, a Dallas-based software technology consulting firm, helping it identify and develop new business models that could kick-start growth.

Cyber Group’s leadership wanted to transform the 20-year-old company from an IT consulting firm to one offering a portfolio of managed-service products. They contacted the Jindal School and reached Dr. Rajiv Shah, an innovation and entrepreneurship professor and director of the MS in Systems Engineering and Management program.

Shah, who teaches the Entrepreneurial Experience (ENTP 6398) course, explained that previous ENTP 6398 students had collaborated successfully with AT&T in a Smart-Cities project and, in another project, helped the company develop healthcare business plans.

Shah offered similar services to Cyber Group, a pitch some executives were receptive to because of their past ties with him.

Buy-in from Bhopi Dhall, Cyber Group’s founder, chairman and CEO; and Hugh Plumlee, vice president and chief technical officer, began after they discovered they both had worked with Shah decades earlier at Texas Instruments.

“There’s a lot of commonality between how businesses use data, no matter the market,” Shah said. “To leverage those commonalities, Cyber Goup could create new products, namely tool kits that can manage those big-data processes. Many of the pieces used for one market could be used by other markets without having to reinvent the wheel every time.”

Shah’s proposal “really resonated with us,” said Saurajit Kanungo, Cyber Group president, as a way to “define the next evolution of our company’s maturity in the marketplace. We thought it would be a cool idea to have these students chime in with some fresh ideas.”

The students proposed various managed-service products for which Cyber Group could offer monthly subscriptions to manage business-data functionalities — “back-end” processes that can consume huge amounts of company resources. Outsourcing those tasks to Cyber Group would free the clients to focus on analyzing the data, instead of spending most of their time in organizing, cleansing and transforming data.

Students formed groups and explored four promising markets that involve maintaining business data: Oracle retail systems, data warehouses, cloud computing and big data. They convened during class every Monday night to receive feedback from Shah and Plumlee, who helped them refine their presentations. On the last day of class they delivered their business-plan presentations to a group of 12 company representatives at Cyber Group headquarters.

Rajiv Shah (back row center) and Cyber Group Vice President Hugh Plumlee (back row, far right) with Shah's Entrepreneurial Experience (ENTP 6398) students at Cyber Group headquarters on the last day of class

Each comprehensive presentation included an overview of the product idea, the problem to be solved, the proposed solution, the target market, the technology involved to implement it, operational costs, a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis, as well as a competitive analysis, a marketing plan, a sales plan, business models and financial projections, breakeven estimates, risk assessment and success factors.

When the semester began, Kowshik Mathiazhagan, an innovation and entrepreneurship student, did not know how to create a business plan, a skill indispensable for any budding entrepreneur. By the end, having created one, he had confidence that he could develop another one from scratch.

“We were able to improve it and tweak it as needed,” he said. “By the time we finished, we had the knowledge and capabilities and knew we could deliver results as needed.”

Fall was the final semester for Harshita Lall, a full-time MBA student. Her course load until then had focused more on navigating the corporate world, so she wanted to delve more deeply into the uncertainties of entrepreneurship. Her main takeaway from the class was learning how to develop a minimum viable product model that could be applied in any startup business situation.

Saurajit Kanungo (left) and Rajiv Shah

“The cloud space is such a big deal right now in the business environment,” she said. “That was my main motivation for completing this class. Little did I know that I would end up giving a presentation to the CEO of the company.”

Shah, having guided students through the course several times, was pleased with the growth he has witnessed every semester.

“Typically, what you get from textbooks is nice spreadsheets and hard numbers — it’s all clean; and students learn either accounting, finance or marketing, things like that,” he said. “But the real world is not like that. In reality, it’s all interactive, and it has to happen together. That’s what business planning is all about. This project is a tremendous experience for my students to learn how things are done in the real world. They have come a long way from the beginning to the end of the semester.”

Kanungo said the students had laid a good foundation for the company’s future direction and growth.

“The students have done the hard work,” he said. “Eventually we will be able to build some walls and a roof around their ideas.”

Jimmie R. Markham

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