‘Minds for hire’: Student consulting club assists local businesses

Author: Erin Blasko

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Michael Lynch and Summer O'Bryan

Businesses of all sorts turn to consultants to improve performance and achieve organizational objectives. It’s why consulting is a billion-dollar industry hundreds of times over in the United States.

That said, consultants are expensive, especially for small or fledgling businesses with limited budgets.

Enter Irish Consulting Club.

Consisting of University of Notre Dame undergraduates from the Mendoza College of Business and elsewhere, Irish Consulting Club offers customized consulting services to local businesses and nonprofits in the South Bend-Elkhart area free of charge.

The purpose is twofold:

• Help local businesses and organizations with limited budgets take advantage of new opportunities and solve especially challenging problems.

• Provide opportunities for students to engage with the local business and nonprofit communities in preparation for future careers in consulting.

The club counts several hundred members. It hosts regular meetings where students can learn about the consulting industry and how to break into it, including the particulars of the recruiting process and how to approach job interviews.

Isabelle “Summer” O’Bryan, a management consulting major from suburban Washington, D.C., is co-president of the club along with Michael Lynch, an economics major from Detroit.

“We partner with a wide variety of local businesses and startups to not only give students the opportunity to see what the business world is like, but foster meaningful relationships with the community,” said O’Bryan, who joined the club during the second semester of her sophomore year.

Now a senior, O’Bryan has worked with a number of local small businesses over the years, including the South Bend Cubs and Off Map, an outdoor hospitality company founded by two Notre Dame graduates that offers elevated camping experiences in southwest Michigan.

With Off Map, she joined with other members of the club to help the fledgling business grow its footprint and increase its bookings via strategic partnerships with national organizations like the National Pan-Hellenic Council, Catholic Charities and Girl Scouts.

"I was very impressed with how quickly they seemed to understand what our vision was and how much it seemed to resonate with them. They internalized what we wanted and needed very quickly. I was so impressed with their savvy in that regard, coming from college students.”

“They’re in their fourth year of operation now and they have full bookings,” she said of Off Map.

Last semester, the group helped the Double Rainbow Project, a Granger-based charity, with production and distribution of its trademark window decals, which cast rainbow-colored light on nearby surfaces. Double Rainbow donates the window clings to cancer patients and others as a way to spread joy. The double rainbow is a symbol of hope for cancer patients.

“It’s a very cool mission, and what we did was help them secure a supply chain, because the way they were doing it, they were kind of making (the decals) themselves,” O’Bryan said.

Gwen O’Brien, director of community relations in the Office of Public Affairs, has served as an unofficial go-between for Irish Consulting and local business owners, including, recently, Rachel Mospan and Charity Stowe, co-owners of Herstoric Development.

Based in South Bend, Herstoric Development is a women-owned business with a mission of restoring historic buildings and fostering community in South Bend, particularly in the Monroe Park neighborhood close to downtown.

It specializes in incremental or small-scale development of the type that adds rather than extracts value from the community and allows local residents to influence the shape and pace of development.

The women are currently working to restore a long-vacant commercial building along a major corridor downtown. Dating to the early 1920s, the two-story brick building with terra cotta trim and adornments will be converted to apartments with ground-floor office/retail space. The apartments and commercial spaces will be affordably priced to support renters and small business owners that may not be in a position to lease at market rates.

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Rachel Mospan, left, and Charity Stowe of Herstoric Development.

“It’s a different way to do real estate development that maintains diversity and affordability while still improving the neighborhood for the people who are already living there,” said Mospan, who grew up in the South Bend area and attended Notre Dame.

Mospan and Stowe met with Lynch and O’Bryan over lunch.

“It was great. I was very impressed with how quickly they seemed to understand what our vision was and how much it seemed to resonate with them,” Mospan said. “They internalized what we wanted and needed very quickly. I was so impressed with their savvy in that regard, coming from college students.”

Based on that initial meeting, Lynch and O’Bryan returned with a proposal for separate marketing, grant-writing and outreach plans. They will take materials that Herstoric Development has developed thus far and continue to hone and synthesize them to allow the quickly-expanding business to be efficient in seeking financing.

“We are just very busy” with design, construction and “back office” tasks, Mospan said, “and then both of us are still maintaining other jobs.” Stowe is a licensed general contractor and owner of Herstoric Construction. Mospan owns a sustainable interior design business, Rachel Mospan Design.

Irish Consulting is among a number of local organizations, including Notre Dame, that assist small businesses with issues ranging from planning and logistics to marketing, financing and legal compliance, often free of charge.

It is one of the few, however, whose services extend beyond mere coaching or advice.

“There are other local (small business) programs, but they aren’t going to go and do legwork for us, they aren’t going to do research and analysis,” Mospan said. “It’s more of an advisory role.”

In that sense, the club is as much an extra set of hands as eyes and ears. Or, as Lynch describes it, a group of “minds for hire.”

As a Notre Dame alumna, Mospan also appreciates the Notre Dame connection — “There’s always a camaraderie and a shared language and experience when it comes to talking with Notre Dame students and alumni,” she said — in addition to the opportunity to introduce Lynch, O’Bryan and others to the community beyond the “Notre Dame bubble.”

“I think Irish Consulting being able to work with small businesses and see more of what South Bend has to offer is awesome and is mutually beneficial,” she said.

O’Bryan agreed.

“There’s so much life and creativity and vision in South Bend, it’s such a lively city to be in,” she said. “And working with small businesses and establishing long-term relationships with community members is really gratifying.”

Aside from Herstoric Development, Irish Consulting Club is also working with Rides2U, a local rideshare company, and South Bend Civic Theatre this fall.

As for the future, Lynch has already accepted a job with Boston Consulting Group, one of the “Big Three” consulting firms along with McKinsey & Company and Bain & Company. O’Bryan, meanwhile, is still on the hunt for a job but plans to work in the technology sector, ideally in strategic operations.