MBA students serve Kansas small businesses through hands-on learning

KU School of Business
5 min readJun 5, 2024


Every spring, MBA students in BUS 810 Kansas Small Business Projects present projects that they have spent the entire academic year working on. The class, led by Will Katz, lecturer in the MBA program, gives real-world, hands-on experiences for MBA students as they take on business-related challenges that Kansas business face.

At the beginning of the academic year, Katz, who also consults for the KU Small Business Development Center (SBDC), brings in potential clients to pitch to the class their business problems. From there, students select which clients they would like to work with for the year-long project.

MBA students present their projects for their client, No Coast Boat Club.

This year’s projects ranged from filing a Phase 1 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) application, to helping a local business sell on an accelerated timeline, to helping a local boat club expand its membership. Students are exposed to a variety of business practices and can take classroom concepts and apply them to real-world scenarios.

“Students learn how important it is to begin with an open mind and to listen to the client,” Katz said. “Building trust is of critical importance in what we do, and it becomes very difficult to build trust if somebody does not believe that you are listening to them and really hearing what they are saying. They also appreciate learning from each other throughout the process.

When Namisha Ajit, Lt. Brian Delamora and Lt. Jake Gumarang were selecting their BUS 810 projects, they did not know anything about the SBIR application process. Their client, Malcolm Snead, a professor of dentistry at the University of Southern California and a clinical affiliate at the KU School of Engineering Bioengineering Program, came to the class needing help submitting the first SBIR application that would focus on the feasibility and commercialization of Snead’s business. He created an endodontic procedure that would help change the way that people receive root canals and would diminish the cost and resources needed by the dentist to perform the procedure.

From left: MBA students Brian Delamora, Namisha Ajit and Jake Gumarang

“I didn’t know anything about the SBIR process when I came to this class,” Ajit said. “It was so important that our group spent time understanding what the process was and what was needed along the way. We took it in bite-sized pieces so we didn’t overwhelm ourselves and our business partner because that could lead to errors.”

Delamora and Gumarang, both Naval Supply Corps Officers, found that their military background helped them set standards and adhere to their specific tasks. By assigning tasks to each group member and setting deadlines and goals, the team was able to collaborate with Snead and get the project application submitted, taking away tangible skills they can take with them in the future.

“This class is so important to the MBA program because you’re putting the different things you’ve learned into practice,” Delamora said. “We have simulations in our other classes, but this is different because it’s an actual business setting. Our class had free rein to work with the customers who we saw fit and learn about the agencies that fund the different SBIRs.”

Each team had different takeaways from their time in BUS 810. Some teams learned that they needed more direction from their client while others learned that sometimes the best laid plans won’t always go accordingly.

Lt. Greg Schwarga and his team found out firsthand that a business plan can change in a moment. The group was tasked with helping Queen’s Pantry Teas, a tea shop in Leavenworth, sell or liquidate its assets as the owners prepared for retirement. Drawn to the owner’s military background, Schwarga and his team knew that the tea shop would be a good fit for partnership.

Unlike some of the projects, Queen’s Pantry had a clear goal for the group to accomplish. Hopeful to get the business to sell instead of liquidate, the group went to work to help the tea shop find a buyer by mid-2024. They explored different avenues to list the business and faced different challenges along the way.

Just a few days before Christmas 2023, the sellers of Queen’s Pantry Teas asked the group to move up the timeline to sell. Instead of months to find a buyer, they now had weeks to find a buyer. Applying what they learned from the class and the parameters set forth by the sellers, the group eventually found a buyer through an unusual avenue: Facebook Marketplace.

Schwarga and his group saw firsthand how important curriculum and experiences like BUS 810 are for students and for the communities the course serves. Students get to think outside the box and have an opportunity to help local economies and small businesses.

“BUS 810 gives us the chance to work with real people with real problems,” Schwarga said. “There is no script. It’s not a case study. It’s a fluid problem and is changing every day. This class increased my knowledge of small businesses in general and let me see the owner/operator side of things. Queen’s Pantry Teas let us in and showed us everything. They were very transparent and trusted us, which made the experience.”

Katz loves seeing his students grow and build skills to complete their projects. With a wide variety of students in the MBA program, there are some learning curves and times where students have to figure out how they will work with one another.

Lecturer Will Katz speaks before the BUS 810 presentations.

“Students usually don’t come to us with the skills they will need to complete the project,” Katz said. “More often, they have to engage in their own learning process to develop those skills, and they usually feel that is pretty rewarding.”

Gumarang credits Katz and the way he structures BUS 810 for making it an essential part of the MBA curriculum and to Kansas communities.

“It’s so important to apply what you learn outside the class,” Gumarang said. “It’s like playing a sport. How else are you going to learn how to play basketball if you don’t practice and play the game? Working on these projects helps us do just that. This class is a symbiotic relationship between us and the communities we work with.”



KU School of Business

Stories about the students, alumni, faculty and staff of the University of Kansas School of Business.