Denison student-consultants tackle real-life business problems

Design Thinking, Innovation and Entrepreneurship
January 9, 2024

Denison’s Red Frame Lab Consulting program is coming off a banner fall 2023 semester, when teams of students worked with corporate clients to build better businesses, from battery technology to fast-food franchises.

Red Frame Lab Consulting is among the opportunities provided through Denison’s Red Frame Lab, an innovation hub where students develop their entrepreneurial skills, connect with visiting entrepreneurs, and learn business and design fundamentals directly from industry experts.

In addition to consulting, the Red Frame Lab offers immersive workshops, startup programs, pitch competitions, alumni entrepreneur summits, and one-on-one coaching.

Red Frame Lab Consulting was born of necessity in 2020 when traditional internships dried up during the Covid pandemic. Denison sought to provide students with equivalent real-world business opportunities by connecting them with companies looking to solve all manner of operational problems.

The concept has proven wildly popular among the clients and Denison students.

“This past semester was the first that we had far more students interested than we can currently take,” said Rick Coplin ’85, Red Frame Lab’s associate director.

Red Frame Lab director Steve Krak said students appreciate the exposure to the unpredictable, fast-paced, and often challenging business climate they’ll enter after graduation.

“There’s a lot of intention around giving the students a real-world experience that isn’t as fraught with risk as it will be in the real world,” Krak said. “But it’s close. It goes beyond what they do in their classrooms, and that is by design.”

Red Frame Lab Consulting began tackling semester-long projects in the spring of 2021, which presented more complicated challenges to students seated at the consulting table. Coplin said the program has grown steadily and served its 100th client this fall.

Red Frame Lab Consulting is built on professional development, with students learning to scope and manage projects, serve clients, work as a team, and communicate and present their recommendations effectively.

The program is open to all students, regardless of their major. But they must apply and can be promoted — or not — based on their performance.

Students earn stipends as interns and work in groups of five or six. Each team is paired with a partner-in-residence, a professional consultant who mentors and offers advice but allows the students to lead each project.

Coplin selects the client list. In fall 2023, students tackled projects for the following businesses:

  • OnPoint Warranty Solutions of Louisville, Kentucky. Denison students were asked to assess how AI technology might aid the company in customer service.
  • NC4K of Columbus, Ohio. Students focused on expanding NC4K’s efforts to aid families who have a child diagnosed with cancer by identifying gaps in services and developing a strategy to expand and support those services.
  • Wendy’s International of Dublin, Ohio. Students conducted interviews, crunched data, and researched how Wendy’s could increase its franchisee opportunities in 20 cities, especially among women and minority groups.
  • An out-of-state battery technology company. Students signed a non-disclosure agreement for this project and worked with the business to launch its first product, which is designed to improve consumer safety by providing advance warnings of impending catastrophic battery failures.
  • Bailey Bug of Newark, Ohio. The startup company develops specialized apparel for wheelchair users. Students provided the company founder with insights on product positioning and growth strategies.

Coplin believes the best projects for Red Frame Lab student consultants are those he’s not quite sure they can pull off — projects that require them to “dive into this abyss of uncertainty” before emerging weeks later with solid recommendations for their client.

Red Frame Lab staff frequently urge the budding consultants not to let the difficulty or uncertainty scare them off.

“Don’t take the ‘this is hard’ feeling as an indication that you shouldn’t be doing this,” Krak advises. “Don’t be discouraged because it’s tough, because it will always be tough.”

Students have stepped up to that challenge.

Red Frame Lab Consulting currently has a waiting list of 30 students.

“I had one of the senior Wendy’s executives say she would hire one of our consultants right then and there if she were able to,” Coplin said. “That was a good indication of the quality of work that Denison students do.”

Back to top