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Applied Business Consulting course an opportunity to earn credit by consulting with real businesses

Asper School of Business students thrive in unique experiential learning course

July 9, 2024 — 

The business world doesn’t follow a syllabus. Assignments change with client needs, and a consultant’s success is measured not by a grade, but by their ability to uncover, understand and respond to those needs.

Students learn this firsthand in the Asper School of Business’ unique experiential learning course, IDM 4050: Applied Small Business Consulting. While students are supported by their classroom learning—a thorough study of business theory and practice in their BComm—IDM 4050 challenges them to think about how they will use this knowledge to manage client relationships to consult real businesses and not-for-profits such as the Reh-Fit Centre.

Led by Howard Harmatz and Judy Jayasuriya  [BComm(Hons)/10, BA/12, MBA/14], the course matches groups of students with real enterprises. Students learn the ins, outs and idiosyncrasies of small businesses and not-for-profits, while firms that may otherwise not be able to afford professional consulting receive high-quality, engaged student work.

As Harmatz explains, the course is also a chance for the Asper School of Business to give back. “In these roles, our students solve problems that are bedeviling decision makers, creating value for the client enterprises and reputation for all Asper students,” he says.

Student testimonials demonstrate how the course encourages students to rethink their motivations and metrics for success, gives them an opportunity to gain and apply new kinds of work experience and teaches them how to communicate.

One student, who consulted for Technisource, an entrepreneurial multi-product distributor, expressed how the course helped them see beyond right answers and focus instead on what the client wants and needs, and what they have the resources to achieve.

“Schoolwork and classroom projects almost always have correct answers,” they said. “A professor has an answer key, and we as students attempt to meet the goals. There is none of that when it comes to consulting. We had to look at what our client had, read what they wanted, understand what they need, and create a contract with them on what we can do for them.”

Another student working with the same firm explained that this mindset shift brings a new motivation for doing well.

“I was motivated more intrinsically with pride in this project. As there would be a real person using the information and recommendations we gathered, I worked hard to ensure that the finished product could benefit the client. This form of intrinsic motivation felt different from the general motivation of simply a letter grade,” they said.

The client-facing leadership roles that students took on as consultants are also often not available in entry-level positions. Said one student, “I will not be a manager right away who has direct interactions with the client or makes the big decisions. Having previous first-hand experience directly working with a client and making decisions is huge for my career growth.”

Communication comes up consistently in student testimonials. One student, who worked with a healthcare provider, reflected on how they had to adjust to more open questions in initial conversations to better understand the client. They learned that communication itself is a process of continuous improvement.

“I had to push myself and constantly rewrite and reword many communications with my teammates and the client, which dramatically raised my written skills […]. I am now able to construct clearer emails and also gave myself a higher level of confidence in my own writing,” they said.

Many students, including one who worked with the Reh-Fit Centre, mentioned this sense of increased confidence in the skills, knowledge and unique perspectives they can bring as they learn.

“This experience established a personal sense of self-assurance that I could effectively manage projects and work collaboratively with clients. It is something I will cherish, and I am thankful to have been part of this project,” they said.

As participating business owners note, the fact that their student consultants were actively learning did not cost them quality, engagement or insight as clients.

Employers describe their students’ work as “deep and valuable,” describing the students themselves as “confident, competent and serious about their project.” The “high stands and polish” that they brought left this employer optimistic about the future workforce. “I completely felt that wherever these students one day land, they will make a huge, successful contribution to the betterment of their chosen area,” they said.

For students ready to apply their business education to real businesses, looking to gain consulting experience or simply craving a challenge, IDM 4050 offers all this and more. Interested students can contact Howard Harmatz directly to learn more about the course (

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