A Belgian company was so impressed with the efforts of a group of Olin Business School students at Washington University in St. Louis that the CEO traveled 4,300 miles to campus this spring for further interaction with the students, marking the first time an international practicum partner has visited the school.
A group of eight MBA students, working on a practicum project through Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning (CEL), took on the task of developing a market entry strategy, competitor analysis and website overhaul for Delcampe.net, an online-selling platform based in Brussels.
“I really expect some great things to come as a result of this partnership,” said Sebastian Delcampe, founder and CEO of Delcampe.net during the visit. “With the students’ help, we’re building a strategy for the future that I think is going to be very effective.”
Since its founding in 2000, Delcampe.net has built a vast online third-party selling platform for a wide range of collectibles, including postcards, coins and postage stamps. With more than 800,000 registered users and close to 55 million items for sale at all times, Delcampe.net is one of the largest online collectibles marketplaces in the world.
The company has a strong presence with buyers and sellers in Europe, but has had difficulty breaking into the U.S. market. That’s where Olin students and the CEL stepped in.
The CEL is a learning center focused on coordinating student teams with faculty oversight to tackle a wide variety of consulting projects for companies of all sizes with a variety of needs — from strategy and marketing to operations and logistics.
“I have been very impressed with how implied in the project these students are,” Delcampe said. “During presentations, they say ‘we’ instead of ‘you’ or ‘us.’ They include themselves in our company, which I think is wonderful. It shows how invested they are to this project.”
Connecting companies with students
The relationship started when Delcampe reached out to Alex Haimann, CEL’s associate director. The two had met earlier at a stamp-collecting event. Delcampe wanted to know if students might have some ideas on how his company could better engage American consumers. Haimann was happy to oblige.
“We have around 20 practicum clients per year,” Haimann said. “The students get fantastic work experience, and the businesses get help solving complex problems. In this particular case, things worked out quite well.”
Delcampe paid for the students, who worked in groups centered around marketing, technology and business model consulting, to fly to Belgium for a week over spring break. The students met with Delcampe and his team and then began working on the problem upon returning to campus.
Delcampe and others from his company flew to St. Louis in April for final presentations and recommendations.
“As the team lead, I came into this experience focused on learning and practicing how to manage a group of students with very diverse backgrounds,” said Carl Austin French, who graduated with an MBA in May and is now working at Exxon Mobil.
“In business school, you spend an incredible amount of time learning about, and discussing, big-picture business strategy, and this project was a wonderful opportunity to apply business strategy concepts and actually advise the direction of an established company,” French said.
Teammate Megan Greathouse agreed.
“I was taking marketing research classes (last semester) and applying it directly to this project by developing a survey and analyzing the data to help Delcampe better understand its consumers,” she said. “I learned a lot about the unique role and specific challenges of online marketplaces.”
Other members of the team were Sonya Bearden, Bret Hoffman, Vishal Sharda, Brandon Smith, Iris Terolli-Hall and Manman Zhang.
By the time Delcampe and his team left campus April 27, they had committed to making significant strategic changes to the direction of the company based on the recommendations of the students.
Not only that, Delcampe told organizers it was the best business trip he had ever taken.
“Companies should feel free to reach out to us,” Haimann said. “The CEL is always looking for opportunities to connect national and international companies with our great students.”
For more information on the CEL and practicum opportunities, contact Ron King, PhD, director of the Center for Experiential Learning, at firstname.lastname@example.org.