Corporate Project, Research Project or Business Plan?

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Corporate Project, Research Project or Business Plan?

During the last 3 months of our Full-time MBA, participants have the ability to create a Corporate Project, Research Project or Business Plan. The dilemma for many is how to choose.

Corporate Project

A Corporate Project is like a short-term consultancy. Participants sit in-house with a single company. The scope of the project is created by the company. You must apply for Corporate Projects and it is not guaranteed that each MBA is able to secure one. In some cases, your target company may not have capacity to host your project. In other cases, an MBA classmate may be successful at sourcing a project which you also wanted. Projects can be done anywhere in the world.

Corporate Projects are beneficial because they provide on-the-job experience of a new company, industry, function and/or geographic market. Doing a Corporate Project will allow you to apply many of the things you’ve learned in the programme. Some participants choose a Corporate Project in an area they have little experience, as a way of trying something new and rounding their General Management background. Other participants choose a Corporate Project in an area they have a lot of expertise, as a way of transitioning back into the job market. In 30% of cases, participants are successful at converting their project into an extended internship or a permanent job.

There are downsides to consider when selecting a Corporate Project. It’s not always possible to create your ideal Corporate Project within a company. You risk working on a project that isn’t what you want or doesn’t let your true strengths shine. It can also be difficult to get all the data you want from the company, since you are only there for a short period of time. Likewise, it can be challenging to gain access to all the employees you would like to connect with. At the end of the day, you need to navigate internal politics while having zero political capital in the company. Your ability to do this greatly influences the success of your project.

The fact that you are with only one company can be seen as both a positive and a negative, depending on your situation. On the positive side, if you are targeting a specific company, this is an opportunity to focus on impressing them. On the negative side, you are putting all your eggs in one basket and don’t have the ability to interact with a range of companies. While our Corporate Relations and Career Advisory teams work to support our MBAs by sourcing projects, the best projects are often created by MBAs themselves by reaching out to companies they are interested in with clear project pitches.

Corporate Project examples:

- Developing venture capital deal flow in art-tech
- Cultural change management at an insurance company
- Global physical retail expansion strategy for an athletic goods company

Research Project

A Research Project allows you to show thought leadership in an area of your own choosing. You have a lot of freedom to select a topic that both makes you curious and contributes to your career progression.

Research Projects are beneficial because you are in control of the scope. It does not need to be theoretical. It can set out to solve a concrete problem. To research your chosen topic, you have the chance to seek the input of multiple companies and independent experts. This gives you a legitimate reason to network, while demonstrating that you have a genuine and thoughtful interest in the issue you are researching. In some cases, this type of project mirrors a consulting engagement. In all cases, it is about positioning yourself as a self-motivated problem-solver and creative thinker.

One challenge of doing a Research Project is that there isn’t much hands-on work experience within a company. While you can network with individuals through your research interactions, a different relationship is formed than if you work side-by-side with someone. Instead of having data provided to you by a company, you need to source original data, read reports to gather secondary data and make assumptions. Another issue is that your chosen research topic may be of general interest to a company, but doesn’t address a problem at the top of their priority list. You may find that companies are not willing to allocate resources or headcount to the area in which you have demonstrated expertise.

The Research Project is the most flexible of all the projects and provides the widest opportunity for networking. The quality of your analysis and recommendations will be seen by all the companies that provide input to your project, which can result in multiple job offers or onward recommendations. Research Projects are also popular with people who are returning to their pre-MBA employer or have already secured their post-MBA job, but cannot begin (or do not want to begin) their job at the start of the Project Phase.

Research Project examples:

- M&A performance in the aerospace industry
- Frameworks to evaluate the potential of blockchain
- Omnichannel market entry strategy for foreign retailers in India

Business Plan

The Business Plan is useful for both entrepreneurs and managers, for different reasons. Entrepreneurs have the chance to focus 100% on their business after only 9 months of studying. Managers use this project as an integrative learning tool to combine all the knowledge they’ve gained in the MBA.

If you are an entrepreneur, the benefits are largely dependent on which stage you are in your startup journey. For some, it’s putting an idea on paper for the first time. For others, it’s sourcing funding, office space or other tasks related to the formation of a company. We know that going from idea to launch is not a linear path, so the Business Plan phase gives entrepreneurs space to both think and act. Entrepreneurs also benefit from having access to our network of alumni, professors and company contacts while developing their plans. If you are a manager, writing a Business Plan is very useful for understanding how to evaluate the buying or selling of a company, develop and launch a new product, or consult companies on growth. The Business Plan allows for a true General Management perspective to be taken, as you must think about finance, marketing, supply chain, human resources, governance, legal and all the other topics encountered in your MBA journey.

Of course, there are risks associated with writing a Business Plan. Entrepreneurs have no guarantee their concepts will be feasible. The road to entrepreneurship is loaded with twists and turns, setbacks and pitfalls, which may result in you not being ready to launch your business by graduation. Managers forgo the opportunity to deeply investigate a specific problem in favour of thinking holistically about a broad range of management topics. In both cases, you must source original data or find secondary data in published reports and studies. There is limited opportunity to network, unless you make it part of your research about competitors, supply chain or another element of your Business Plan.

Some participants successfully found a business after graduation. We’ve had graduates use the project to establish businesses both in Switzerland and abroad. In some cases, this has allowed entrepreneurs to relocate to new countries to run their businesses, including Switzerland. Others do a Business Plan because they have a curiosity about the process and a desire to see if their ideas can really be launched. They may intend to work after graduation and return to their entrepreneurial ideas at a later career stage. The Business Plan acts as an initial idea validation or practice round. Ultimately, it’s about learning the tool of business plan writing, which is a key competency to have throughout your career. The ability to think through all the interconnected pieces of running a business is what an MBA education should provide, and this is a perfect chance to finish the MBA by self-assessing how much you have developed.

Business Plan examples:

- Co-working space in Norway
- Impact Investing consultancy in South Africa
- Service provider to assist Swiss chemical SMEs and startups expand to China

A Rare Moment

The opportunity costs of each project option must be weighed. For many MBAs, there is no clear preference. They are all exciting and career-defining experiences in their own right. Reaching the last few months of your MBA, the Project Phase should not be treated simply as the final hurdle you need to clear or the final test you need to pass in order to graduate. It is the exciting finale. The Project Phase is a rare moment in your career. Outside of the MBA, many people take unpaid leave or make special arrangements with their employers to undertake a 3 month experience like this. Some never get the chance to dedicate this amount of time to a self-directed project during their professional adult life. This is why the Project Phase is fully integrated into the programme. Whichever project type you do, it is a valuable way to finish your MBA.

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