Dozens of businesses in the Rochester area and beyond have taken the bold step of trusting MBA students to give them quality business advice.

Those companies have partnered with Simon Vision Consulting (SVC) to receive pro-bono consulting services from Simon students over the course of a semester. The Campus Times spoke with SVC President William Zoratto, a second-year MBA student, to learn more.

The group took on 17 clients this semester and paired them with teams of part-time and full-time MBA and M.S. students across Simon’s disciplines. Every team is led by a project manager who is in charge of four to five consultants, and each project manager is paired with a local consultant as a mentor and is overseen by an SVC managing director. The exact makeup of the teams varies from  project to project — students’ skills and interests determine where they’ll be the best fit. 

The group focuses on aiding organizations in need with less than 10 to 20 people.

“They are the people that need help, probably the most, but they don’t really have the business background,” Zoratto said. “And they can’t hire someone because they don’t necessarily have the funds to hire a consulting firm.”

There are no limitations on what size company can apply, though. Zoratto credited their faculty member on the SVC managing team and Executive Director for Experiential Learning at Simon, Wayne France ‘89, ‘94S, the, for connecting them with a lot of their clients from Rochester

“He’s a huge advocate for us and speaks on our behalf to different groups out there like Chambers of Commerces or business leadership conferences,” Zoratto said.

This semester, clients included:

  •  R Community Bikes, a local nonprofit that donates bikes to those in need and provides free bike repairs
  • Magic Dragon magazine, a quarterly publication based in Webster, NY that shares art and writing from children 12 years old and younger,
  • Iuvo BioScience, a Rochester-based clinical research organization that sells medical tests
  • The City of Rochester itself, which requested help on a few different projects including vacant storefront activation downtown

Zoratto hopes SVC can continue to work on a similar number of projects, as prior to 2023 the group was a lot smaller, only taking on about six projects a semester. The group is at a “pretty decent size” now, according to Zoratto, and has plans to keep it that way.

“We’d rather focus on quality, not quantity,” Zoratto said. In line with the group’s mission, 97% of the group’s past clients would “highly recommend” SVC to others.

“The wonderful thing is that we’ve seen the growth in the amount of projects that we can impact the community with. We’ve seen it go into different sectors, we’ve seen it go this year more into the public sector, and we’ve seen more nonprofits that we’re helping,” director France shared. “That’s the best part about what Simon Vision Consulting does, and why I’m honored to be their advisor.”

Not just any Simon student can join SVC — first they must apply and interview with the Board of Managing Directors, made up of elected experienced SVC members. This semester was pretty competitive Zoratto noted, with 158 students applying for only 80 roles. 

On average, students typically work around four to six hours a week, but some may even spend over 10 hours depending on their amount of free time and passion for the project. Project managers are selected first, and are then given the power to select their own consultants based on project interest and skill set. 

SVC accepts applications from businesses twice a year: once in January and once in September. After the managing directors reviewed the submissions and defined the scope of the project with the clients, teams form in late September or early October, and are expected to create their project plan within the first week after meeting one-on-one with their client.

The projects wrap up in late November to early December, with the SVC showcase taking place on Dec. 7 this semester where each team got to present their project and what they learned. Clients have the option to apply to receive SVC assistance in future semesters if needed. SVC is currently soliciting client applications for the Spring 2024 semester and will be recruiting students in January 2024.

After the showcase, attendees headed to a new room for some appetizers — and perhaps more excitingly, awards. Best Project Manager and Best Consultant awards were handed out by Chagan Sanathu, SVC’s engagement director, while reminding all participants that they should post about this experience on LinkedIn with their participation certificate. The bonus for award winners: an official recommendation from the managing directors on their LinkedIn profile and a voucher for some Simon apparel. 

“It’s so amazing, the fact that we’re here, and we have this really good relationship where we have organizations that need business help, and we have business students that want access to work on these consulting-type projects,” Zoratto said. “We have, and were able to bridge the gap and introduce both of those groups together to create real impact in our community.”

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