Last Thursday, December 5th, was my fifth year attending the University of Washington Minority Business of the Year awards. Every winter, the Consulting and Business Development Center (CBDC) at the UW hosts this event to recognize outstanding minority-owned businesses around the state of Washington. Proceeds from the evening fund both diverse student scholarships and classes for small business owners.
Wayne Perry, the dinner's keynote, gave a speech about the value of taking risks, reminding me of my own start with the CBDC. During my junior and senior years, I participated in a program at Foster Business School that provided a generous fellowship from the CBDC. Part of this fellowship included participating in MKTG 445, a consulting class run by the CPDC that pairs small business owners with a team of student consultants for a quarter. Despite my hesitations about the class (MKTG 445 is known as one of the most time-intensive and challenging courses at Foster), I took the leap and accepted the fellowship.
Accepting the fellowship set my future in motion. Combined with my other scholarships, I was able to participate in unpaid internships and hold leadership positions I wouldn't have been able to do if I was working 40 hours a week to pay for school. In today's competitive business world, an undergraduate degree hardly garners a glance if there aren't a robust set of extra-curricular activities to accompany it on a resume. MKTG 445 was just as impactful. Consulting for a small business as a junior with only 2.5 years of business experience (all book-learning) was both terribly stressful and invigorating. Small business owners possess real-world problems - not doing well wouldn't just mean a poor grade in the class, it would mean hurting the well-being of the businesses and their employees. Surviving MKTG 445 taught me that solving problems is what I wanted to do for a living, and it was my gateway into consulting. Not to mention, it got me into in consulting firm interviews and proved a fruitful discussion point.
The CBDC has a tremendous gift for creating win-win situations. Their student consulting programs offer free consulting to under-served companies who could not otherwise afford it while providing students with real-world business experience. Following Mr. Perry's suggestion, why not take a risk and invest in your community? You might just change someone's life.