A group of Mount Mercy University students last month partnered with small entrepreneurs in Belize and found that good business practices are often universal — what works for the largest operations can be translated to a mom-and-pop shop.
"For us, it was very neat to see how the things that we learn when we talk to corporations ... can be brought down to a small company that had basically just this man and his wife," said Jesse Weyant, a Mount Mercy master of business administration student from Center Point. "It's neat to see that the same things apply, just on a little smaller scale."
Bob Walker, associate professor and business department chairman, and Celina Peerman, adjunct professor of the MBA program, led the trip, taking 16 MBA students for a week in Punta Gorda, Belize, in January.
The students partnered with small businesses in the community of about 5,500 people. The five businesses included a drum school, a gift shop and an Internet cafe.
Weyant and two other MBA students on her team helped a small organic dried fruit business. The owner wanted to seek investors and begin exporting his fruit to Guatemala and the United States.
But the students helped him see that he was overlooking his local market, team member Bob Heubner said. By the time the team left when their week was up, the business owner had sold out of his inventory.
"We explained to him how it would be easier to focus on the local market, build his production process as efficiently as he could, then we built costing spreadsheets to help him determine his costs and prices," said Heubner of Springville. "Based on our recommendations he actually went out and hired a person to help him ramp up production, to get sales and marketing in the local areas."
Another student team helped owner Emmeth Young with his Maroon Creole Drum School. The business was still organizing and unpacking after a move from a different town, and many of the former advertising and online efforts had fallen by the wayside.
Young gives drum lessons but also sells homemade drums at his wife's cafe, which was a business paired with a different MBA team.
"That's a classic business problem — you've got to have a sign," said MBA student John Schroeder of Cedar Rapids. "He just had the drums kind of scattered around the cafe, some of them were priced and some of them weren't.
"Tourists would come in and didn't understand."
So the students helped reorganize the drum display, show better pricing and helped with a logo and signs. Within the week, Young sold five drums, an amount it typically took him a month to sell, Schroeder noted.
They also recommended he make a portfolio so interested customers could see what drums he has in stock.
The first-time trip was a capstone course for students who are close to finishing the Mount Mercy MBA program, to put what they've learned to real-world use and to see how to adapt the business principles for a developing nation, Walker said.
Walker expects Mount Mercy will maintain connections to those businesses and perhaps seek out more to help in the area on future trips."I think all these students are changed a little bit, and we did some good things for Punta Gorda," Walker said.