Meeting real challenges
Business student group aids nonprofit organizations
For University of Iowa junior Jostten Sackitey, business school isn’t just about crunching numbers on a spreadsheet; it’s also about exploring opportunities and applying those classroom tactics to solve real-world challenges.
Sackitey is president of a group called Students Consulting for Non-Profit Organizations (SCNO) that hopes to provide business, marketing, and management strategies for nonprofit organizations around the UI campus. SCNO is a 10-year-old, nationwide network that supports local communities through their services. The Tippie College of Business chapter’s first project was the Eastern Iowa 10,000 Hours show last spring.
“The UI has been promoting the IOWA Challenge; part of that is serving your community and getting involved,” says Sackitey, a finance and economics major. “SCNO provides an outlet for business students to get involved on campus and in the community.”
The group of seven volunteers operates and manages its own projects. After an application and selection process, SCNO awards one nonprofit organization a lending hand for the semester. Last fall, SCNO chose a business operated by the School of Social Work called Wild Bill’s Coffee Shop.
Wild Bill’s is a 35-year-old coffee shop located in North Hall. It began as a modest business with Bill Sackter, a man with a developmental disability, who sold cups of coffee for 25 cents from a closet. That modest business has since developed into a shop that continues to foster the memory of Bill, as well as break even financially. In efforts to keep the business strong, business coordinators looked toward other resources for help and launched a partnership with SCNO.
“My goal is to get a fresh perspective, and since I don’t have a degree in business, I’m hoping this group will bring us some new ideas,” says Jefri Palermo, the development coordinator for the School of Social Work and supervisor of Wild Bill’s. “We will benefit from some fresh eyes looking at ways we can make the coffee shop more sustainable.”
In the past, when Wild Bill’s was unable to break even, financial reserves maintained the business. But now, with tighter budgets, the coffee shop needed to develop new strategies.
Wild Bill’s business embodied the kind of groups SCNO desired to work with. Wild Bill’s is considered a learning lab for social work students in a relaxed, non-threatening environment where people with a physical or mental disability have a voice, Palermo says.
The consulting group will use the entire semester to come up with methods for marketing, inventory, and more. These methods will be presented to Wild Bill’s by the end of the semester. Although members of SCNO do not implement the strategies themselves, they provide informed and professional suggestions that the business may adjust and then apply.“It’s not just about having a place where you can buy a great cup of coffee, but it’s also a very special place where there’s an opportunity to step outside your comfort zone and have a conversation with someone who may look at the world differently,” Palermo says. “That’s what I’m passionate about—continuing just that.”