International biz students help regional firms abroad
Bait in the water doesn't guarantee the fish will bite. But it never hurts to throw in a few lines.
Additional tackle is essentially what local multinational companies are getting from the Collaborative Industry Partnership project at Elizabethtown College.
Also known as CIP, the 3-year-old program is a collaboration between the college and the Kutztown University Small Business Development Center in Harrisburg. The latter helps the former's international business senior seminar class identify regional firms in need of market research and ways to set their brand apart overseas.
"They are helping companies fish better," said Martin Brill, the SBDC's international trade program manager. "They are helping them help themselves."
In return, students gain real-world experience before they graduate. It could mean a job for them, which happened last year in the case of a student working with Armstrong World Industries Inc.
The spring semester project also could create internship opportunities with participating companies for future international business students.
"It has to be mutually beneficial," said Hossein Varamini, who teaches the senior seminar and runs the international business program at the college.
The CIP is one project in the course and not a replacement for an internship.
"It's all about problem-solving," said senior Nate Fosbenner, who is working with York Township-based International Water Co. to identify possible distributors for its mobile water purification systems.
Fosbenner and classmate Danni Qiao, an international student from China, said the project presents a good opportunity to accumulate practical experience they will need after graduation.
They also are working on a sales management database to track worldwide leads and recommendations to help the company differentiate its products in the field.
"Our market has largely been identified as overseas. And intellectual property theft is rampant," said International Water CEO Steve Strachan, who is looking for some guidance on a logo and company colors.
International Water sells two versions of its purification system, which is tailored to help developing countries with fresh water supplies. The smaller version can pump about 2.5 gallons per minute; the larger version pumps about 15 gallons per minute.
Both can operate from a generator but can function using solar and wind power. The base price per unit: about $50,000 for the small one and $150,000 for the larger unit.
Different water sources create different challenges, which means customization. And costs can vary over how the units are purchased, Strachan said.
The cost is a lot to absorb for many countries, which opens up the prospect of selling units to leasing agents in the target countries. That is one option students are exploring as they get ready to present their recommendations at the end of April.
International Water has its sights set on Chile, Colombia and Vietnam.
"Our technology, being off-grid, supports those sorts of economies where towns and villages are not connected by electrical lines and underground plumbing," Strachan said. "The types of infrastructure we know here don't exist in most of the developing countries."
Since unveiling its system last year in York — after about three-and-a-half years of research and development — International Water has been developing relationships with defense contractors and the federal government.
The early interest is coming from within the government structure of several countries across the globe. The Chinese government has a unit on display at the Bird's Nest in Beijing, site of the 2008 Summer Olympics.
Tanzania has expressed interest in the system for its military.
"It's happening slow for them, but it is happening," Brill said of International Water, which has about 9,000 square feet of space on Farm Lane where it could produce up to 20 machines per month.
Other project details
Other students are working with Manor Township-based Armstrong, maker of flooring, ceiling and other building products, and York-based Air Dynamics Industrial Systems Corp., a custom manufacturer of indoor contaminant control systems.
The former is looking for market research for a plasticizer used in flooring coverings, while the latter wants to identify third-party certification agencies to bolster the appeal of its test chamber, which it says is more sophisticated and reliable but also more expensive than others on the market.
Students are provided access to various SBDC tools to help them in their research.
"This could be a model for other business schools in the region," said Varamini.
More information about Collaborative Industry Partnership projects
The Collaborative Industry Partnership project, or CIP, started at Elizabethtown College in 2011. It is part of the international business program’s senior seminar class offered in the spring semester.
Including the current class of six students, about 40 to 45 students have participated in the CIP, which is a collaboration with the Kutztown University Small Business Development Center in Harrisburg and regional companies looking to expand overseas operations.
Here are some past projects:
• 2011: C.L. Sturkey Inc. Assist the company with potential markets and prospects in Southeast Asia, based upon previous contacts and market research from a variety of databases.
• 2011: Zeigler Bros. Inc. Research new markets in Africa and Southeast Asia, including screening importers and researching tariff and non-tariff barriers.
• 2012: Ethos Pure Water Technology. Identify the competition, analyze the current electrolyzed, oxidized water market in the U.S., research necessary certifications, seek applicable trade show opportunities, outline the strategic differentiators and outline key import requirements.
• 2013: Allegheny York Co. Expand sales in South America by researching tariffs, shipping costs, competition, potential distributors and market demand in select countries.
• 2013: Armstrong World Industries Inc.* Research material procurement with a particular focus on starch.
*Armstrong is the first repeat company. Elizabethtown College students are currently working on a research project tied to a plasticizer used in floor-covering products.