Five WSU Vancouver business students did something the tycoon sharks from ABC's "Shark Tank" declined to do—help Slumberkins grow and improve.
The students didn’t get the job done using buckets of money; instead they did it by offering their advice.
Kamyar Abtin, Molly Bartley, Shannon Leininger, Shelby McGuffey and Sarah Moe were part of the Business Growth Mentor and Analysis Program in the Carson College of Business. The senior capstone course, under faculty guidance, matches a team of eager business students with one or two seasoned business mentors from the community, and a Vancouver/Portland metropolitan-area business or nonprofit looking to improve and grow.
Slumberkins is a Vancouver-based company launched in 2016 that has become a leading educational children’s brand working to promote positive social/emotional life skills for both children and parents. Each collection features a plush creature, affirmation card and board book that focus on a valuable life skill.
Clearly parents embraced Slumberkins’ principles regarding developing resilient, caring, confident children, because the company grew fast. In November 2017, co-founders Kelly Oriard and Callie Christensen pitched their business to the multimillionaire and billionaire tycoons on “Shark Tank” asking for $175,000 in exchange for 5% equity. Citing the brutal plush industry, fierce competition and the amount of work involved, all five Sharks bowed out.
This did not deter the Business Growth MAP students.
During spring semester 2019, Oriard and Christensen came to Business Growth MAP looking for ways to handle their growth, particularly when it came to inventory management and e-commerce. “We didn’t have a lot of business experience on our side, but our company was growing fast, and we needed help managing that,” said Oriard.
Bartley, a management information systems major, said the team’s first meeting with Slumberkins helped the co-founders understand what Business Growth MAP could do, and what the talents and passions of the team were. After the initial meeting, the student team identified three things they would accomplish in their scope of work. Understanding the:
- Profitability of Slumberkins’ marketing channels
- Cost of inventory and inventory turnover
- Profitability of each product in the line
After 16 weeks of assessment and work, the student team recommendations included a product line profit and loss model, a marketing budget solver and three executive dashboards. For this, the team won the 2019 Outstanding Growth Assessment Project.
“The team worked so hard. They all went above and beyond, and it felt great to see them win this recognition,” said Oriard.
“Through Business Growth MAP, students learn that things are dynamic and ever changing. It’s a risk to hire people who don’t understand that aspect of business. I think the MAP students come out of the program understanding that.”
"The most rewarding aspect of working on this project was the team’s connection with the co-founders,” said Bartley. “We felt a real connection to their mission and their products. Our work was making a difference and supporting people who are doing a good thing.”
Bartley used Power BI, a business analytics service by Microsoft, to create dashboards for Slumberkins. She said the Business Growth MAP project allowed her to put everything she learned in the classroom into context.
“My MIS classwork provided perfect data sets. In real life, it’s a lot messier and requires a lot more validation. I learned how to do that,” said Bartley.
Oriard reiterated the importance of being able to adapt and change with a business’s needs. “Through Business Growth MAP, students learn that things are dynamic and ever changing. It’s a risk to hire people who don’t understand that aspect of business. I think the MAP students come out of the program understanding that.”
“The Business Growth MAP class gave me street cred. I talked about it in my interviews,” said Bartley, who interned this summer and accepted a job this fall with New Relic, a San Francisco-based software analytics company with an office in Vancouver. “I love what I’m doing and could not have found something that is more aligned with my degree and what I’m passionate about in MIS. I’m doing reporting, dashboard building and database architecture. It’s really hands on,” said Bartley.
Student team member McGuffey has stayed on with Slumberkins. “The team provided us with a dashboard that allows us to track our data and process in real time, and that created a need for someone to continue working with that tool,” said Oriard. McGuffey also has a strong finance background and Oriard said he is a great fit with the company.
“He’s getting great experience, and we’re getting a lot of help. It’s giving him a broad look at what it’s like to work in a startup,” said Oriard. “It changes every day, and Shelby has been very adaptable.” ■
If you are interested in becoming a Business Growth MAP client or mentor, call 360-546-9533, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.