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Duke Students Get Real-Life Experience Helping Small Businesses Grow

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DURHAM — As college students go back to school this week, they will be learning in and out of the classroom. Duke University'sFuqua School of Businesshas a unique program where graduate students get real-life, hands-on experience.

The Fuqua School of Business sends first-year graduate students out into the community to help small businesses solve problems. The small business consulting program gives students the experience they need; it gives businesses the help they cannot afford.

Last year, graduate student Michael Koppenheffer and four other students helped Raleigh's Rainbow Travel develop a growth plan.

"It really was invaluable and it was great to do it so early in our program," says Koppenheffer. " We could learn as we were helping Rainbow Travel and we could apply it to what we're doing in our classes and vice versa."

After four months of study, the students targeted a couple of areas. They suggested that Rainbow Travel expand its office, get new software and develop a Web site. The travel agency took the advice.

"At first I was kind of skeptical about the program. And then, I tell you, when they did the presentation it really just took me off my feet -- how they broke it down and what they thought we should do," says business owner Rolo Fleming.

The program's director, William Sax, says most of the partnerships are successful. He specifically remembers working with one business in Chapel Hill.

"In that particular case he feels like he saved, or his bottom line improvement was over $100,000 a year," says Sax. "We don't expect to do that with every client, but that was certainly a good success story."

In its 12 years, the small business consulting program has helped 200 businesses. Sax says 75 percent of those businesses adopt the suggestions of the students.

This year, the program is accepting applications and hopes to help 20 small businesses out of the requests received.

If you have a small business and would like to participate in the program, you can call Linda Kellerman at Duke at919-660-7789or you can e-mail program coordinatorWilliam Sax.

The deadline for applications is Friday, August 27. In order to qualify you must have been in business for at least a year.


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