WSU mentor program helps feed the economy of southwest Washington

Two people holding Range Meal Bars as they squat next to a box filled with more of them.
BG MAP students helped entrepreneur Zach Hein (right) develop marketing solutions for his Range Meal Bar business.

The Business Growth Mentor and Analysis Program (BG MAP) capstone experience for WSU Vancouver students has helped more than 375 small businesses and nonprofit organizations to be more successful since its inception in 2011.

BG MAP pairs business clients with student consultants who suggest innovative strategies for increased revenue, marketing and operational efficiencies, growth trajectory predictions, and more. Each student team works with a mentor — someone who has experience in the business world and guides the project through its various phases.

The goal of the program is twofold: positively contribute to regional economic development while providing educational opportunities for students.

“The collaborative team environment encourages innovation and provides unique solutions for each client we work with,” said Kerby Boschee, senior manager for experiential learning and community engagement, who oversees BG MAP at WSU Vancouver. “Approximately 165,000 hours of pro bono consulting services have positively impacted our local communities, driving economic growth and development in our region and across the state.”

An estimated $17 million in new revenues has fueled the region’s economy since the program’s inception.

Recommendations lead to success

Recently, two food-related businesses reported tangible gains after working with BG MAP students.

In 2023, BG MAP students helped Zach Hein with marketing challenges for his company, Range Meal Bars. The BG MAP team recommended several solutions including contracting with a third-party to facilitate order fulfillment, reducing website load speed, and implementing an email onboarding sequence that nearly doubled customer orders. The team also recommended Hein invest in events and high-quality marketing materials to boost overall market awareness. Upon receiving this advice, Hein developed a YouTube and theater documentary on local climber Andrew Okerlund, the youngest and second fastest climber to summit all of Washington’s 100 tallest peaks in a single season.

In another case, BG MAP students worked with Dee Chow and Laramie Dorris, owners of Small Eats, a Taiwanese breakfast and street food stall in Vancouver’s Farmer’s Market. Chow and Dorris wanted to increase market visibility, customer reach, sales, and revenue.

Students suggested adding a large sign above the Small Eats stall at the market, which increased new customers by 5% and revenue by more than 10% in a few months. The team also recommended selling branded shirts, displaying higher-quality pictures of menu items, and opening a pop-up shop at a storefront in downtown Vancouver. The new space allows Chow and Dorris to be more creative and share more of their Taiwanese flavors with the community.

“The team gave us long-range solutions we could act on immediately and a roadmap for additional solutions down the road,” Chow said.

Chow and Dorris standing under a Small Eats banner hanging outside their storefront.
Dee Chow and Laramie Dorris, owners of Small Eats, a Taiwanese breakfast and street food stall in Vancouver’s Farmer’s Market. BG MAP students gave the couple long-range solutions they could act on immediately and a roadmap for future solutions.

100% implementation

At the end of each program cycle, clients complete a survey about their experience and how likely they are to implement the student consultancy teams’ solutions. A one-year follow up survey allows the program to check in with clients about how things have been going in the year since they participated in the program, Boschee says.

Of the responses received in fall 2023 from client participants, 100% reported they implemented the solutions suggested by the student teams.

“According to WSU’s Office of Institutional Research, 95% of WSU Vancouver alumni remain in the area after graduation,” Boschee said. “By giving our graduates experiential learning opportunities, we are ensuring they are well equipped to address complex business challenges when they enter the job market, whether in southwest Washington or elsewhere in the world.”

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