A team from UNC Pembroke won a top prize and $1,000 this spring in the 19th annual Graduate Business Student Competition that is sponsored by UNC’s Small Business and Technology Development Centers. The UNCP team tied East Carolina University for 3rd place, competing against 16 teams representing North Carolina universities.
Contest winners – Pictured from left are: MBA students Robert Weagraff and Liz Cummings, Dr. Carmen Calabrese, MBA director, Donna Lowry, owner of Caring Touch Home Health Care, MBA student Elizabeth Wilkins and Johnnie Marshburn, small business specialist.
It was the culmination of a semester-long “directed studies” course for Liz Cummings of Pembroke, N.C., Robert Weagraff of Laurinburg, N.C., and Elizabeth Wilkerson of Orrum, N.C. Their project was to deliver business consulting assistance to a start-up business, Caring Touch Home Healthcare, LLC, of Pembroke.
Dr. Carmen Calabrese, director of UNCP’s Master of Business Administration (MBA) program, advised the team.
“This is a great showing for us and is a testament to the quality of our students and our MBA program,” Dr. Calabrese said. “They gave an excellent presentation and invested thousands of hours in the project.”
Cummings, who provides technical support for UNCP’s 48 campus computer labs, said she was not nervous despite the competition.
“It was a great team to work with, and we did a lot of work,” she said. “We were not nervous because we were so prepared.”
Cummings said the directed studies course ‘was a lot of work,” but it paid off with real world business lessons.
The group’s project was to assist in the growth and development of a local business. Caring Touch was a client of UNCP’s Small Business and Technology Development Center (SBTDC) and Johnnie Marshburn, a small business specialist.
After several months of intensive consulting, Caring Touch was a better managed business, said owner Donna Lowry.
“They did a wonderful job; I just can’t say enough,” Lowry said of her consulting team. “A small business does not have the manpower to do everything that is needed.”
Lowry needed to focus on growth, especially growth of her staff. With fewer than 100 employees at the start of the project, Caring Touch had 263 employees on June 1.
“We would not have made the advances we needed to make and hired so many new employees without our MBA team,” Lowry said.
Cummings said it was “interesting to work with a start-up business.” She said Caring Touch had good fundamentals as a business, including a talented manager in Lowry, but like most small businesses, it needed assistance in specialized areas.
“Donna was very inspiring,” Cummings said. “She loves what she is doing, and she takes care of her employees. I admire that.”
The MBA team worked on marketing the new company and on its information technology program.
“We listened to what she had to say and looked for areas to help her,” Cummings said. “In the marketing area, we created a brochure and a billboard.”
The UNCP team also investigated software support specific to the home health care industry.
“We researched software for her industry and found a program that could do scheduling, mapping and billing. It was also compatible with her accounting software.”
Cummings said that as an information technology (IT) professional, she was comfortable in some areas, but other areas were a stretch.
“I’m in the IT business, but I worked on all areas of the business including the brochure,” Cummings said. “We implemented the program in October, and the impact was immediately noticeable.”
Cummings said it was a great hands-on experience as part of an MBA program.
“It was far more demanding than classroom work,” she said. “There is no textbook, but I learned a lot. I actually used what I learned in the classroom. It was very useful.”
The competition is sponsored annually by North Carolina’s SBTDC, Marshburn said. The local office is headquartered in UNCP’s Regional Center for Economic, Community and Professional Development.
“Our team gave an excellent presentation, and we had an excellent client in Caring Touch and Donna Lowry,” Marshburn said. “They made a real life impact on a real business.”