Case study

Student projects for business

Academics in Derby Business School have been creating opportunities for students to work on real projects for companies and charities as part of their learning. This has had a positive impact on both the students and the organisations involved. Here are five examples.

Business and management consultancy

Final year undergraduate business students act as consultants through the year-long module, ‘Business Consultancy Project’. They get to choose from a wide range of organisations (private, public, and not-for-profit) such as specialist manufacturers, insurance and finance companies, town councils, local football clubs, charities, and arts and cultural organisations. We aim to work with smaller enterprises, where the students’ work can have greater impact.

Students research the challenges faced by the organisation — through meetings, site visits, and desk-based research — and then make recommendations about how to address these. Many then get the opportunity to present their improvement ideas back to the company.

Postgraduate students on our new MSc Management are now following the same process in a corporate management project. This year they can choose to work with one of seven local SMEs, including a corporate clothing company, a heritage project, an EV charging and renewable power provider, and an arts and cultural CIC. 

The impact

The results have been positive. For example, recently a representative from the digital experience company, Techsquad, was so impressed with one student’s idea for business improvement, that they asked him to present it to the CEO and HR Manager.

Similarly, the Football Association (FA) was interested in taking forward another student’s idea to have conduct marshals at grassroots games. Students often comment that they learn a lot from this module and have used it as evidence during interviews. 

International market entry strategies

Final year undergraduate business students can also opt to take the ‘International Entrepreneurship’ module. This asks them to create an international market entry strategy for a local company, which currently has little or no international exposure.

In recent years, we’ve worked with a range of SMEs, including companies that provide airport software, LED lighting for vertical farming, AR/VR training solutions, and composite manufacturing solutions.

Students research the appropriate market/sector, the competitors, potential regions or countries, and then recommend the best EU and non-EU country to enter. They also determine the market entry method and what marketing to use, and present all their findings as a 10-minute video, rather than a report. The best videos get shown to the company. 

The impact

The students value the experience, using it at interviews to prove what they can do, and the SMEs enjoy having a fresh perspective and often find the new ideas useful. For instance, one student suggested a company used customer personas to identify different market segments — something the firm had not considered before — and another identified a new potential partner for the airport software company. 

Often, the firms use the project to test out their own ideas. For instance, students overwhelmingly concluded that the AR/VR training solutions firm should enter the US market — something which the company was already considering, but hadn’t revealed to students. Later that year, the firm did in fact open a sales office in the US. 

Students working together on laptops

Social media takeovers

During a first-year undergraduate marketing module, students have been producing and managing social media content for local small businesses and charities. This sees them ‘takeover’ the organisation’s Twitter feed for 4-6 weeks. 

The impact

19 companies have been involved so far, and the initiative has also led to three internships being created.

One charitable organisation said:

“The team have consistently kept in touch, delivered a consistent message, used their own initiative to maximise the impact in a fun and light-hearted way. We have never had an enquiry via social media before, but we have now.”

The students have been equally positive and seen tangible outcomes from their work:

“Working with you has helped us to develop our existing skills and knowledge whilst managing a professional Twitter account.”

“We are proud of our work and happy to tell you we have gained you 144 followers, helped you post over 180 tweets and upped engagement levels on your page.”

They have developed important skills for employment — not only learning to use social media in a business context, but also writing in an appropriate language and tone, working in teams, delegating tasks, and working to deadlines. 

Creative campaigns for alumni businesses

A second-year undergraduate marketing module called ‘The Agency Executive’, provides another opportunity for students to make a difference to local SMEs, by planning a creative campaign for a firm.

The best projects have been run by, or connected with, University of Derby alumni. This is because students and the alumni can relate to each other, and students are inspired by the graduates’ success. We have worked with local car dealerships, breweries, and other SMEs.

The impact

This module enjoys great feedback year-on-year, with high participation rates and very high-quality work produced.

One business commented:

“Working with students is so useful for us as an organisation, as it enabled us to see different solutions which we hadn’t considered, or our consultants hadn’t come up with.

"It’s been so helpful to see the ideas through many different eyes; these are our future professionals and perhaps customers too.”

Workplace experience in logistics

For many years we ran a second-year undergraduate logistics and supply chain module, where students worked in groups on projects for an external logistics organisation. They spent eight or nine full days (one day per week) actually working within the organisation and at the end, presented their findings and recommendations to key managers.

Projects focused on issues such as:

The impact

Many of the students’ recommendations were implemented by the companies. For example, a fashion retail distributor fully implemented a group’s recommendations for the use of RFID. Another project impressed the client so much that they entered it into the National Logistics Awards 2019 (Future Skills category) and won.

Benefitting students, benefitting business

Through all these projects, we enhance the employability of our students, while making a positive contribution to many local SMEs. The organisations value the new perspective, fresh ideas, and extra capacity that the students can provide. They also benefit long-term, by helping to develop more work-ready graduates.

Get involved

To find out how your business could benefit from being involved in a project like this, contact our Employer and Community Engagement team:

T: +44 (0)800 001 5500