The Business Solutions Centre is an innovative collaboration between the School of Business students and staff and the Research, Enterprise and Innovation team at London South Bank University (LSBU). The Centre is staffed by students from the School of Business who act in a consultancy capacity working on real problems posed by local businesses and organisations who contact the Centre to seek business advice and guidance. These Student Advisers are employed by the university and trained and supported by staff from across LSBU. The Student Advisors have full responsibility for operational aspects of the Centre, including meeting client SMEs and undertaking the business projects identified.
Development and Delivery
The Centre (now in its second year of operation) was set up by the School of Business jointly with the Research, Enterprise and Innovation team at LSBU. It was created to give students a real world experience of supporting SMEs and to provide a way for smaller SMEs to access expertise in the university. It is based in LSBU’s award-winning Clarence Centre for Enterprise and Innovation. The Centre is entirely funded by the University and employs around 12 Student Advisors at any one time. It is open to the public two afternoons a week and local businesses can arrange a consultation by email or can simply drop in to the centre during opening hours. The client will then be met by one of the Student Advisors for a diagnostic interview. The Student Advisor will make an assessment of the type of solution to be offered depending on the nature and complexity of the problem posed by the client. Solutions offered include students researching a simple business query or mini-project through to development of a piece of academic consultancy.
Three levels of student training have been developed for potential Student Advisors covering all aspects of business consultancy work and students who complete all three levels are then able to apply for paid employment within the Centre.
LSBU benefits extensively by developing links with the local community and local businesses, supporting the local economy, and of course in showcasing the expertise of the students and the staff who support them. By providing this extra-curricular enterprise opportunity the student experience is enhanced and valuable employability skills are developed within students. Furthermore, the projects that the students undertake will provide excellent in-curricular case study material for students across the School of Business.
Following a professional training programme the students put theory into practice by working in a consultancy capacity for a variety of businesses. This exposure to real-world business issues helps them to develop career plans and commercial awareness and builds their professional network as they connect to the University’s vibrant business community.
In its first year of operation the Centre has supported a total of 35 businesses. Data on the projects completed so far shows that the largest proportion (36%) has been related to marketing and social media, with other queries relating to business development (27%) and accounting (11%). Businesses have also required assistance with aspects of intellectual property, business law and financing.
Feedback shows that 83% of customers were very satisfied with the service offered with 67% actually implementing the solution that was presented. All respondents reported that the solution positively impacted on their business.
This initiative is an excellent example of the way in which extra-curricular activities can help develop key entrepreneurial skills within our students (over and above the subject knowledge that they learn through their taught courses) and strengthen links between the School of Business and its local business community. For the students, this is not just about providing business advice to external clients, but running the Centre as an enterprise itself, developing operational procedures and good governance processes, and liaising with clients as employees of the university.
The Centre is currently still in its developmental phase but has generated a steady flow of external clients. The next stages will be marketing to a wider selection of local businesses and feeding the experiences of the Student Advisors back into the taught curriculum so that we can be sure that our graduates are well versed in the needs of SMEs and can draw on real case studies to enrich their learning experience.
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