Taking Learning to the Next Level: Pairing SMEs and Students for Mutual Benefits

By the SMU Social Media Team

When Mr Phillip Wee, the founder and CEO of Beauty Collection International (BCI), wanted to bring his business into the digital world, he decided to seek help from the SME Consulting Programme (SCP) organised by the UOB-SMU Asian Enterprise Institute (UOB-SMU AEI).

Launched in 2012, the UOB-SMU AEI is a tripartite partnership between UOB, SMU, and other local enterprises. The institute is focused on helping SMEs be more systematic and scientific in their approach to business and management while offering SMU students the opportunity to enhance their education via experiential learning in the SCP.

“A local SME is matched up with a team of SMU students who will spend 16 to 20 weeks to come up with solutions for a business issue faced by the SME. This is done under the guidance of an experienced project advisor who is usually a subject matter expert or industry practitioner,” explains Vera Tan, Head of the UOB-SMU AEI.

In the case of BCI, a team of four undergraduates from Singapore Management University (SMU) — Mohamed Ashiq, Mahathir Muhammad Bin Shaik Fareed and Angel Mary Oviya from the Lee Kong Chian School of Business, and Manikandan Suresh from the School of Social Sciences — were assigned to help revamp BCI’s website and grow its presence on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. The student team drew up and executed a digital road map that would help grow BCI’s social media following and establish a more substantial online presence.

 

“Collaborating with students enabled me to tap on their fresh perspectives and the ideas they picked up in the classroom, to market my products and services.”

 

Says Mr Wee: “The idea of engaging students to undertake consulting work attracted me because SMEs like mine typically adopt a more traditional way of marketing their business. Collaborating with students enabled me to tap on their fresh perspectives and the ideas they picked up in the classroom, to market my products and services.”

On their part, the students who worked with BCI had the opportunity to gain real-world experience in the industry, so they could understand the pain points and issues SMEs might face in Singapore.

“Being a marketing consultant for an SME is not exactly in line with my area of expertise,” says Manikandan Suresh, a psychology major. “Sure, consumer behaviour has some relevance to psychology, but to learn about an SME’s operations and products and then go on to create a new digital marketing strategy for that company is entirely different from what I am studying.”

 

“We became fearless and tried all we could, leaving no stone unturned until we got the results we wanted.”

 

In the team’s shared post-project reflection, they described: “The theories we learnt in class gave us a base of knowledge about certain aspects of a business, such as marketing. However, crafting a marketing strategy in the real world means infusing theoretical knowledge with practical solutions, within limited resources as well as other constraints. As such, we became fearless and tried all we could, leaving no stone unturned until we got the results we wanted. What we have gained from this programme is precious real-world experience.”

Since its launch in 2005, the SCP has run an estimated 40 to 50 projects a year. But despite the excellent traction, the UOB-SMU AEI is not resting on its laurels. Ms Tan recognises that SMEs are looking for practical help that can be quickly implemented, while students are looking for valuable opportunities to hone their skills and practise the theories they have learnt in class.

To help them meet these goals, an enhanced version of the programme, SCP+, was launched in the last quarter of 2018. It utilises bite-sized implementation projects, so SMEs and students alike can see almost immediate results. A student club—Avente Consulting Club—was also launched in February 2019 to further complement the programmes. Run by students, the club is fully endorsed by UOB-SMU AEI. It is SMU’s first consulting CCA that focuses on helping SMEs adapt to the changing digital landscape through implementation projects.

To find out more about the UOB-SMU AEI and the SCP and how you can be a part of it, visit https:/usaei.smu.edu.sg/usaei/sme-consulting/overview.

 

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