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Q&A with the Research and Business Development Center: How BYU-Idaho students are gaining real-world business experience

May 28, 2019

Students at Brigham Young University-Idaho have an opportunity to gain real-world business experience by completing semester-long research projects for private businesses and public institutions.

The Research and Business Development Center, a nonprofit in Rexburg, facilitates partnerships between the business sector and the university, giving students the chance to work on projects outside the classroom.

Projects — examples include feasibility studies, competitive analyses, financial analyses and other research — are funded by private businesses or public entities, and students can participate through classes at BYU-Idaho.

Students get either internship credit or a resume boost — or both. And they gain experience working with a group on research for a real business.

For businesses, it’s a consulting opportunity on projects that they may not have the time or staff to complete. And they’re working with fresh, eager students, who likely are cheaper than a professional consultant.

In 2018, the Research and Business Development Center facilitated 200 13-week projects, and 900 students participated in the program.

John R. Ward, a business development specialist at the Research and Business Development Center, described a recent partnership with a company that was looking for students’ help researching a new business development area.

“We looked at that initially, and we went back to them and said, ‘Before you develop this new business it’s probably prudent to do a marketing study,’” Ward said.

So they did. Business students developed a marketing study for one semester and presented it to the client, meeting with them regularly.

The following semester, electrical engineering students developed, for the same company, an electrical network study. And the semester after that, mechanical engineering students worked on it, as well.

“The customer is very happy with what they’ve seen,” Ward said.

Ward and the center’s director of sales and business development, Brady Adams, spoke with the East Idaho Business Journal about the Research and Business Development Center and how it’s a useful resource for students and the business community.

East Idaho Business Journal: How did the Research and Business Development Center get started and how has it changed over time?

Brady Adams: In 2006, when the university president at the time, Kim Clark (he was the dean of the Harvard Business School), came out here to be the university president, he saw the need for increased opportunities for experiential learning and applied learning for students here at BYU-Idaho. They originally set up a 501(c)4 nonprofit to help students gain experience and apply their learning. But it was economic development focused in trying to bring businesses to Rexburg. That would then provide opportunities to the students to get real world experience.

In 2010, another organization that was called the Southeast Idaho Research Institute, a 501(c)3 nonprofit was established. It was for giving students the opportunity for mentored research.

In 2014, the two organizations merged and they kept the 501(c)3 status — education-based nonprofit. The focus was to give the opportunity for applied learning and experiential learning opportunities by bringing projects to Rexburg. Regardless of where a company is located, we try to pull a project out of their organization and put it here at the Research and Business Development Center, and a team of three to five students will work to solve that business’ needs.

EIBJ: What types of students participate in this program? And what do they gain from it?

Adams: The majority of our students come out of the college of business: marketing, finance, (economics), communications. Their internship requirements are easily met with our projects.

Learning how to navigate different personalities and different perspectives and viewpoints is extremely beneficial for the students and that goes across any subject, any department on campus.

One of the biggest things they get from this is an additional point on their resume. Not all of the students that participate get internship credit. Some of them come through the first time and get their internship credit approved with their department, and they come back for a second and third project because they see the value of making sure their experience section on their resume articulates the type of potential employee that they will be.

John R. Ward: From the student side, they get to make a much more informed decision about what type of work they want to go into than they otherwise would have. They’re going to know from these projects whether they really like this kind of thing or not.

EIBJ: Rexburg is a booming town for business in a rapidly growing region. How does that location and environment help your program?

Adams: Probably 60 to 70 percent of our projects come from eastern Idaho businesses. The benefit to the business is that they are getting extremely savvy business students that also could potentially be part of their workforce. To continue to build that business ecosystem in Eastern Idaho, it provides a really could opportunity for that local business to marry up with university talent.

We have a ton of projects that are entrepreneurial in nature. We do a lot of projects for business in the beginning phases of the business life cycle, which is really exciting for the students because the work that they’re doing has an immediate impact on decisions.

The students get a great opportunity to see what the business landscape is right from the get-go. Our entrepreneurial ecosystem in Eastern Idaho benefits from that for sure.

Ward: We’ve had this strong relationship around here, but the vision is to reach a much higher percentage of the student body than we’re currently reaching. One of the primary objectives of the university is to make sure graduates get good employment. We know this region, with a student body this size, one of the largest universities in the Intermountain West, can’t accommodate all these graduates here. Part of my vision is to help extend that footprint out, wherever we can.

EIBJ: What does it cost for a business to hire these students for a project?

Ward: We have some basic projects. Some of them are free and some of them are around $500. The next level, if we do advanced teams, can be anywhere from $3,500 to $5,000. You’ll have a team of four and oftentimes they’ll have a professor or somebody like me working with them.

Adams: For clients, when they’re thinking about working with the Research and Business Development Center or another consulting agency of some sort, we say, “Don’t necessarily bring us that project that is critical that needs to be executed right now.” We say, “What’s some back-burner projects that you might have? What’s some additional information that we could gather for you so that you can make better decisions?”

Learn about the Research and Business Development Center at www.rbdcenter.org or call 208-356-5009.

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