Columbia Business School students, Dave Twerdun, Alba Roman, and Mike Hollman, traveled to Sao Paulo, Brazil during Winter break, to work on an exciting and challenging International Development Club (IDC) pro bono consulting project. The trip was supported by the Social Enterprise Program’s International Development Consulting Project Travel Fund and the student team worked with Practica, a kitchen equipment manufacturer that specializes in making combination ovens and blast chillers.
You might be wondering…what is a combination oven and what is blast chiller? And most importantly, how in the world will this team of business school students be able to help this entrepreneur introduce his products to the US market?
The first two questions are easier to answer. A combination oven is an oven that integrates convectional heat and steam to cook food. This process allows the food to cook faster and helps lock in the flavor. Blast chillers are used to quickly freeze cooked foods, fruit, and vegetables to store for future use. Quickly freezing foods allows them to stay usable longer and increases the overall flexibility of Chefs and kitchens.
What did the Columbia team do? Even though our team did not possess an expertise of the US kitchen equipment industry, we quickly became up to speed with the trends of the industry and who the key decision makers were. By spending many hours cold calling restaurant owners/operators, equipment manufactures, service providers, and anyone else who talk to us; we identified that Practica should introduce their products to “High End” hotels and Chef’s already familiar with new technology. This strategy could be more easily executed with limited time and resources. By targeting this segment Practica will enter the US market quickly and begin building a strong brand name. Furthermore, we outlined a detailed action plan for Practica to pursue to enter the US market and “out-flank” their competition.
This project was a great opportunity to work with sophisticated entrepreneurs in an international context. We quickly realized how large the project’s scope was. To form a full scale expansion plan is a very large undertaking and therefore we tried to focus on the areas we thought we would have the most impact and could provide constructive advice. The whole team enjoyed the experience and learned a lot more about running a business. We worked closely with senior management and we were able to get great insight into the decisions that business owners and operators face on a daily basis and in forming the long-term strategic direction of a company.