University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee



Student consultants in the Judy Genshaft Honors College offer international, alumni-owned businesses a fresh perspective

By Georgia Jackson, University Communications and Marketing

The course description for Global Student Consulting, advertising a “high-impact, experiential learning” opportunity with an international edge, caught the interest of 10 students representing a mix of majors, from health to the arts.

By the end of the fall 2023 semester, the undergraduates — most with no previous business experience — had developed viable solutions for vexing problems faced by two alumni-owned businesses in Sweden and the Netherlands.

Along the way, some of the students became quasi-experts on the green industrial revolution and Sweden’s sparsely populated northern-most region. Others learned how to analyze markets and businesses’ strengths and weaknesses. All honed their skills in teamwork, delegating duties, and setting and meeting goals and deadlines.

Their beneficiaries also ended the year with valuable new tools.

“They did such a great job,” says Sol Spier, ’16, founder and CEO of Dawning Digital, a marketing agency based in the Netherlands. “I saw all these different perspectives because we had students in finance and health care, in marketing and in arts.”

Greg Smogard

Greg Smogard

Since fall 2019, Professor Greg Smogard has offered Global Student Consulting as a capstone course for undergraduates in the Judy Genshaft Honors College and the Muma College of Business. Last year, it earned him a USF Global Education Faculty Award.

The assistant vice president of innovation and business development at USF Sarasota-Manatee, Smogard gets rave reviews from both students and the organizations he enlists as partners.

“Professor Smogard was a really great teacher,” says Taitana Celestin, a political science major who collaborated with four other students on behalf of Sweden-based MindDig, a talent acquisition and recruitment platform. “He really is a dropeverything- to-help type of teacher.”

Amna Wajahat, a senior majoring in business analytics and information systems, served as a consultant for Dawning Digital, based in the Netherlands.

“When I read the course description, I really thought this was meant for me,” she says. “Dr. Smogard was there to help us, but our deliverables were a result of how much we put into it.”

Smogard says the course offers two major benefits.

“Working directly with an international company on a real-world problem or opportunity gives the students the chance to develop some unique skill sets,” he says. “At the same time, it’s a great way for USF to connect with and maintain a close relationship with our international alumni.”

Problem No. 1: MindDig

Founded by Chana Svensson, ’08, and Marcus Gustafsson in 2020, MindDig recruits workers to sub-Arctic Sweden, where a green industrial revolution is hungry for skilled employees. In recent years, dozens of companies — including Skanska, Northvolt and H2 Green Steel — have moved to the area to launch industrial decarbonization efforts.

In addition to serving as a talent acquisition and recruitment platform, MindDig is a resource for potential hires who may be wary of accepting a job in what seems like the middle of nowhere.

“We want to differentiate the image of northern Sweden,” Rosendal said. “We do have a summer. We do have people. We do have schools. There’s soccer for your kids. You can go skiing.” 

Meet the team

Student consultants: Patrick Meehan, Taitana Celestin, Erika Yamauchi, Anisha Hossain Megha and Riazul Islam Rahat

The company wants to expand to neighboring Norway and Finland, but its leaders had questions.

“How do we scale this thing going forward?” asked Ludwig Zivkovic Rosendal, chief operating officer. “Where do we focus our resources?”

His five student consultants left their first meeting with a broad scope of work, including marketing, sales, technology and organizational growth.

“The industrial green revolution was something I’d never heard of,” says accounting major Patrick Meehan, who spent the first six weeks learning everything he could about it. “We had to wrap our heads around it before we could even start to think about next steps.”

Leadership at MindDig was impressed with the students’ insightful feedback, which touched on many of the issues defined and, as the landscape continued to change, redefined by the company over the course of the semester. 

“It was very refreshing to hear from people who had the time and resources to do the research that in the day-to-day reality of running a start-up, you don’t have the bandwidth for,” says Rosendal. “We are trying to do a lot. It shows great insight and maturity for them to say, ‘You’re doing too much, you need to slow down and focus and perfect what you have before you try to do more things.' They provided us with a long-term perspective.”

While none of the USF students plan to relocate to northern Sweden any time soon, Celestin and Meehan, who will both graduate in May 2024, both agreed the experience helped prepared them for what’s next. 
“I’ll be on three different teams at Amazon over the next two years,” said Meehan, who has accepted a position in the multinational technology company’s finance rotation program. “So, the experience of setting personal deadlines while being part of a team will be helpful. And Amazon’s a very international company, so the experience working with international companies was a really cool opportunity.” 

Problem No. 2: Dawning Digital

Spier founded Dawning Digital in 2017, when the freelance clientele for her digital marketing services outgrew her capacity. She’d always dreamed of living in Europe and moved her company to the Netherlands with help from the Dutch American Friendship Treaty.

Meet the team

Student consultants: Maahir Azmain Chowdhury, Cole Hallwas, Ramina Kaiyrzhanova, Loriona Serani and Amna Wajahat

Her 2023 challenge: growing her U.S. and European client base.

Wajahat and her teammates reviewed Spier’s business plan and performed a market analysis, compiling data on the markets she wanted to serve, such as price points, buying habits and competition. They also conducted a SWOT analysis, a data-driven examination of an organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

“They put together a wonderful presentation with such great suggestions, including a whole plan of how I can scale my company,” says Spier. “What really impressed me, they provided multiple solutions. Now I get to pick and choose.”

Spier’s story was a source of inspiration for Wajahat, who expressed interest in the idea of maybe starting her own company someday — after she gains experience in the corporate world. 
“Her story is really cool,” said Wajahat, who has a full-time position with CitiBank lined up after graduation. “She brought her vision to life. She’s like, ‘If I can do it, then you can do it.’ 

The student consulting class is open to students on all three USF campuses. It is offered by the Judy Genshaft Honors College and the Muma College of Business. To enroll, get involved or request more information, contact Greg Smogard.

An abridged version of this story appeared in the Spring 2024 issue of USF Magazine.

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