At Indiana University Northwest, Yllka Azemi teaches “Marketing Strategies,” a course designed for business administration majors that requires students to assemble in groups and develop a marketing plan for a new product or service, or an existing business.
This is no ordinary school project. Pairing students with real business folks in the community enables learning that far exceeds that of books or lectures. Then, Azemi amps things up even more by making the final project a competition between students.
The course is gaining a reputation for its ability to convey real-world experience to students, forge quality mentor-mentee relationships, and unite campus neighbors with campus resources.
A year ago, three women launched their class project into an actual business, Truly Teas. Last semester, the winning presentation resulted in a marketing plan for J’s Breakfast Club, a local restaurant just down the road from IU Northwest, owned by Joslyn R.W. Kelly.
The five business administration majors who created the plan for J’s – David Hertl, Ernestine Harper Price, Rami Tadros, Marissa Kolosli, and Giorana Bilbija – said the opportunity to work directly with a local business owner on her marketing plan, presented lessons and experience they never would have received from a book or lecture.
The merits of mentoring
“Professor Azemi opened doors for us by getting us out of the books,” said Hertl, who has aspirations of opening a restaurant/music venue. “College is a lot of lectures and tests, and breaking out of that really had a huge impact for all of us. This felt like the most important thing that I had ever done in school.”
Tadros, who hopes to one day land a job at a technology powerhouse like Apple or Google, said he has a “newfound passion for marketing ever since taking this course.”
“Joslyn is such an inspiration to us,” he said. “As a business owner who is active in the community and who is such a humble, great business owner, she inspired us to do the best that we can in our future endeavors.”
Price said her dream is to take her commercial cleaning business to a new level and Kelly has become an inspiration that has given her the confidence and skills to do so.
“I took a lot from this project because I want to put my business out there too,” she said. “With all of us brainstorming, it gave me a lot to think about. Like Joslyn, for instance, and how she gives back. I want to start small, but end up big. That is my dream, to be a business owner too.”
The benefits to local businesses
Kelly said that operating a small business so close to IU Northwest’s business school and not getting involved with its students and resources is akin to “having the fountain of youth in your backyard and complaining about how old you are.”
“This type of relationship is very practical,” Kelly said. “Because we have that fountain of youth, because we have these resources in the community, there is no excuse for not being on the cutting edge or at least more innovative with our business approach. IU Northwest is astute to whatever the community needs to keep thriving. Because I’ve become immersed in that resource, I feel tapped in and more engaged to get answers and directions as necessary.”
Kelly was impressed with the students’ final recommendations for her business, conceptualized following an intense analysis of the business’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, as well as the demographics of her current and prospective customers. They provided recommendations for a fresh, modern logo and brand, palatable for an audience she wants to target, but hadn’t previously – millennials.
Kelly said the students’ social media prowess was perhaps the most valuable takeaway from the students’ work.
“My idea of technologically advanced is not even on their spectrum,” she laughed. “They helped with finding the right tools to communicate and presented ways to communicate that I hadn’t even thought of.”