Pandemic Recovery: A Case Study

June 24, 2021

When we think of graduating MBA students we think of new recruits joining big corporations, Wall Street, or high-flying consulting firms. We don’t usually think of them in entrepreneurial circles. Yet, that is exactly what a group of MBA students did when the pandemic hit us last spring—paving the way for today’s small-business rebound and ongoing growth.

When the pandemic arrived, RingCentral wanted to give back to the small-business community it had been serving for decades, because this community was hit particularly hard with all the mandated restrictions. In addition to stepping up to the table to become an important partner of NSBA, RingCentral sponsored the Small Business School Challenge (SBSC), a two-day hackathon event organized by LifeWork (now operating as a public charity—the Small Business School). The goal of this event was to provide critical problem-solving and strategic planning to those small businesses hardest hit by the pandemic.

450 MBA students from 16 top business schools (including NYU Stern, Yale, Vanderbilt, UCLA, and UC Berkeley Haas) joined the event and provided strategic guidance to over 150 small businesses. RingCentral provided not just the funds needed, but also the communication platform that allowed the MBA students to collaborate with each other and communicate with the small businesses they were helping.

One of the small businesses that participated, INCASA, a lifestyle retail store based in New York, had to shut down their physical location due to COVID lockdowns. This instantly resulted in a 90 percent decrease in overall sales. The little bit of revenue coming in was due to online sales, but overall, their digital presence was pretty minimal.

INCASA heard about SBSC and applied to see if they could get help pivoting their business model to survive the crisis. The team of MBA students assigned to them from the NYU Stern business school, listened to their situation, understood the obstacles they were facing, and identified resources needed to move forward.

The students then created a marketing plan that took into account INCASA’s philosophy and their current available resources. Here are some of the highlights of the plan they built:

  • Launch a Feel Good Incasa Campaign to connect with existing customers and bring owner Eduardo Vazquez’s design skills to customers virtually in order to sell current inventory
  • Expand INCASA’s virtual offerings to include Virtual Home Decorating Services, Experience Bundles for the Home, and a Sending-Love Gifting Program
  • Build out social media and email campaigns to reach customers wherever they are online

In the end, the team of MBAs that helped INCASA was one of the winning teams in the challenge and used the prize money to expand INCASA’s virtual offerings as the MBAs advised.

Implementing all these suggestions helped INCASA increase their monthly online revenue by 900 percent (you read that right!). This growth was enough to compensate for the dramatic decline in in-store sales, and thus helped INCASA survive the pandemic.

Since then, RingCentral has sponsored two more phases of SBSC hackathons—one last fall and the most recent one this spring—and the results have been very encouraging. Here are just a few stats from some of the earlier cohorts:

  • 68 percent of the small businesses implemented the proposals that their MBA teams made
  • 47 percent of them saw business improve by more than 20 percent
  • 43 percent of them were able to rehire staff they had to lay off at the beginning of the pandemic

You can check out the INCASA and all the other stories of how SMBs have been helped in this competition at this online library of SBSC case studies. And if you want help from MBA students for your business, keep an eye out for the next round of the Small Business School Challenge, coming this fall.