By Asma Hasan and Susan Kantor
The business skills taught in UIC Business graduate programs are in high demand for non-profit organizations and explain the significant number of MBAs employed in the sector. Recognizing how important business skills are to non-profits, Associate Professor Maija Renko presented UIC Business students with an independent study opportunity focused on non-profit market research.
This project we took on was conducted in conjunction with Joe Moag from Neumann Family Services, a local nonprofit that serves persons with a dual diagnosis of intellectual or developmental disability and mental illness.
Co-packing, also known as co-manufacturing, is the process of using a third party for manufacturing small batch food production. Boutique food producers use co-packers to spend less time on the production themselves so they can focus on other areas of their businesses. It also frees up cash for other operations, rather than investing in a costly production facility.
Moag is working to launch a new co-packing service targeted to local Chicago food entrepreneurs, with Neumann’s clients as the employees. Such a business model has the potential to create revenue and job opportunities at Neumann, while serving the production and packaging needs of those Chicago entrepreneurs looking to provide locally grown and responsibly produced food. Benefits of the service include using space in Neumann’s facilities, and Neumann’s clients can build job skills and earn revenue for the organization.
Moag has a thorough business plan for the co-packing service, but he needed additional market research to better understand the needs of local food entrepreneurs, their decision process for choosing co-packing partners, and their willingness to work with a mission-driven co-packing facility like the one he was proposing. Enter UIC Business students.
We saw this as a great opportunity to get real-world experience in market research while helping an organization with a meaningful mission. We jumped at the chance to work on this project as an independent study.
We started the project by meeting with Moag to understand his business plan and needs. Our research plan included a combination of an online survey, phone interviews, and a review of news articles and industry reports on co-packing, Chicago-area food entrepreneurship, and national trends relating to these businesses. We found that people were eager to work with us and share their stories to write our report. We presented the findings to Moag and Professor Renko at Neumann Family Services in October.
From our initial meetings to the final presentation, this was a rich learning experience that we’ll be able to apply to our careers because we got to experience scoping, executing, and presenting a market research project. It was interesting to see how much data and information is out there, but that it takes skill and planning to put it together in a useful and cohesive way. We were able to paint a picture of the overall landscape of food businesses in the area to see where gaps occur and how they can be filled.
This project was also a great example of how graduate studies at UIC Business integrate practical application into our coursework, going beyond the classroom like student organizations such as InKind Consulting and Net Impact do with their projects and case competitions. We were able to use methods learned in class to perform our research and digest it into a report that Neumann Family Services will use to determine the scope and operation of their facility. It has been incredibly rewarding to know that our work will be used by Neumann and that we have a project to keep updated on for future opportunities.
Asma Hasan is pursuing an MBA in Operations and Supply Chain Management. With a background in food and beverage, she is interested in sustainable production and sourcing.
Susan Kantor is pursuing an MBA in marketing. With a background in journalism and communications, she is interested in the fields of marketing, media, advertising and entrepreneurship.