A Florida-based plumbing products company hopes it will soon be flush with cash, thanks to advice from some Northern Illinois University MBA students.
The students, enrolled in the NIU College of Business Evening MBA program, studied Sarasota-based Aqua Mizer’s business plan as a class project this past summer. The 14-student class, comprised mostly of working professional adults, broke into four teams and picked apart Aqua Mizer’s business model, marketing strategy and operations.
The students presented their reports in a “Shark Tank”-like competition at the end of the class, which focuses on entrepreneurism.
Some companies would hesitate to open up themselves to this kind of scrutiny, but Mike Sisti, Aqua Mizer’s vice president of branding and marketing, calls the class project “a great experience.” The connection was made by an Aqua Mizer investor who is friends with John Wonak, instructor of the course.
“Despite the firepower on our management and investor team, these young entrepreneurs opened our eyes to some marvelous opportunities,” Sisti told the Business Observer. “They reinforced ideas we had but hadn’t used. It was a great experience.”
While such projects are built into the school’s Fast-Track and Executive MBA programs, this was a first for the evening MBA class. The students found the process to be a tremendous learning experience.
“I loved everything about the project,” said student Nimesh Parmar. “We were expected to suggest business solutions based on today’s market, the way we do business today. It was a much different challenge from a case study dated a decade ago.”
Student Ben Goode said that while the course was aimed at entrepreneurs, he felt he learned things that could be applied anywhere in business. “I had a great experience in the course,” he said. “I learned a great deal about financing, operations, etc., that could be applied in a larger corporate setting or an established small business.”
Dean Denise Schoenbachler said that such projects are a hallmark of all of the programs offered in the NIU College of Business, whether for undergraduate or MBA students. “We brand ourselves as a place ‘Where the business world meets the classroom,’ and this is an excellent example of how we live up to that statement,” she said.
Aqua Mizer developed a series of patent-pending retrofitted toilet-based products that reduce water used in toilet bowls without affecting performance.
The firm previously targeted the plumbing and multifamily housing industries for sales, going for volume, but Aqua Mizer re-prioritized some projects and initiatives based on the students’ reports and ideas. That includes reaching out to water authorities in a few states for possible sales, working with its Chinese manufacturer to open up distribution in Asia and conducting more research to market directly to consumers.
Aqua Mizer also contacted manufacturers and distributors in India after some students, natives of the country, reported on the untapped potential there.
“We hadn’t put India at the top of our list,” Sisti said. “But they showed us a whole market and how to get to the top of that market.”
By implementing the suggestions made by the NIU students, the Florida firm is projecting annual sales between $12 million and $15 million within four years after “tanking” last year and low-six-figure sales projected for 2013.