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Real Projects, Real Progress

March 21, 2024 Erica Hulse

“We wouldn’t have been able to do it without the students’ help…[and it] reinforced my belief as to how well the College of Business is educating these students, and how bright the future is,” shared Mike Norman, Chief Executive Officer for the Kentucky Science Center in Louisville, Kentucky, when reflecting on his consultation experience with Professional MBA (PMBA) students. “We got so much value out of [that experience]. I couldn’t have been prouder – I thought they did a great job.”

Norman is just one of many business founders and leaders who have successfully partnered with teams of students in the PMBA program. They consult on projects for business startups, large-scale companies, and non-profit organizations as part of their final capstone project for their PMBA program. An entrepreneur in her own right, having founded and launched two companies, Whiskey Chicks and Execuity, the College’s Executive in Residence, Linda Ruffenach, currently oversees the capstone project, MBA 670. “The goal of the capstone is to get students to use the skills they’ve been taught during their MBA program and put them to use in real-life scenarios. It’s one of my favorite classes to teach,” she shared. “There are a variety [of students] doing research – some are doing marketing plans…a lot of times they’re doing some social media strategies for these companies. It’s a lesson about how businesses work, [and] where the challenges are.” Joan Hale, founder of Necessary Comforts, also worked with a PMBA team and noted that the partnership with her group gave them a chance to see some of those unique business challenges first-hand. “This partnership provided these students a peek into the reality of a small-scale, lean startup.”

Creative Consulting

After learning about this consulting opportunity, Norman was paired with and met PMBA team members Lukas Boston, Sam Brekke, Rosie Devine, Sonja Faul, and Sean Kennedy, who developed and presented market research about potential growth opportunities for the organization – and the information they shared provided valuable insights. “We are just overwhelmed, and we don’t have enough staff. We have a couple of folks with great analytics [skills], but they just don’t have the capacity to take on a special project like this. So, we wouldn’t have been able to do it without the students’ help,” noted Norman. Additionally, Hale shared that the feedback she received from her team helped her consider ways to reach consumers better locally and further develop and grow her brand. “We got a lot of great advice from the students we worked with on things like opening a physical location, marketing ideas, and more.”

From an academic perspective, Ruffenach sees the unique opportunity for MBA students to offer consultation to executive leadership as a way for those businesses to learn about cutting-edge, innovative strategies that will better help them to think outside the box when problem-solving. “The team…did phenomenal research and went directions I never even thought of,” noted Ruffenach. “They looked regionally, they looked nationally, they looked at different statistics. They looked at things related to tourism [and] the bourbon industry. Their perspective was on a broader appeal and looked at how they could help the Kentucky Science Center achieve the goals they’re trying to achieve.”  

Promising Partnerships

The bonds built between PMBA students and participating businesses can open doors for future College collaboration with companies and organizations. Whether they are potential internship experiences or continued consultation experiences with current and additional companies for future PMBA cohorts, Ruffenach reflected on the difference positive word-of-mouth can make, increasing interest in PMBA consultation opportunities across the Louisville business community. “It creates that connection between the University and what could be an established or a new and upcoming business. When you create those kinds of connections, they’re going to have an impact on their business. They’re going to remember that moment for these individuals or these business owners or leaders [and think], ‘Wow, that was a great experience.’” Hale echoes her PMBA team’s positive impact on herself and her company and believes other area businesses should take advantage of this unique opportunity. “These students are the future of the business world, and they have access to the latest business trends as well as insights into things that more established businesses may not understand the importance of.”

From a non-profit perspective, Norman explained how word-of-mouth could impact area support-related organizations that could benefit from participating in this collaborative consultation experience. “The one thing I would do in my non-profit leadership circles is talk this up because I don’t want them to be overlooked because what we do is essential. There are social service agencies that are feeding people, they are keeping people in homes, but they need the business acumen to help them.”

Along with a transformative capstone course, UofL’s PMBA program allows you to complete a graduate program in 20 months, with a convenient, on-campus evening schedule to accommodate your life. Program graduate Connor Tracy shared his experience and advice to those considering pursing their MBA. “You are surrounded by extremely talented, unique, and driven individuals at the University of Louisville. This is an opportunity to expand your network, develop lasting relationships, and grow both personally and professionally through the relationships you cultivate.” Senior Executive Director of Graduate Programs Vernon Foster elaborated on the unique educational experience PMBA students will receive while enrolled at UofL. “…[the] capstone project stands out as an unparalleled experience that bridges the gap between theoretical knowledge and real-world application. By engaging students in community experiences or projects with external partners, the course goes beyond the traditional boundaries of academia. From Fortune 500 corporations to non-profit organizations, the capstone project empowers students to make a tangible impact, showcasing the true value of their education while providing our students the opportunity to make a tangible real-world impact with and for our business partners.”

If your company or organization is interested in consulting with PMBA students, you can connect with the Forcht Center for Entrepreneurship at

About the UofL College of Business:

Founded in 1953, The UofL College of Business fosters intellectual and economic vitality in our city, region, and the global business landscape. Our academic programs, research, community outreach initiatives, and commitment to student success inspire lives and businesses to flourish through entrepreneurship, innovation, critical thinking, diversity, and the power of people.

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