Blackstone LaunchPad Helps Communication Ph.D. Students Build Metro Detroit Client Base

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Jul, 23 2013

Blackstone LaunchPad helps communication Ph.D. students build Metro Detroit client base

by Lucy Ament Hern, Educational Outreach

An ivory tower is no place for communicators. That’s why – with a boost from Wayne State’s Blackstone LaunchPad – the Department of Communication is getting doctoral students out of Manoogian and into Metro Detroit to extend their expertise to corporations and nonprofits.

With the encouragement of College of Fine, Performing & Communication Arts Dean Matthew Seeger, the Communication Consulting Cooperative (CCC) was launched last year to create a network that would benefit both Ph.D. communication students and Detroit-area consumers.

“Dean Seeger realized that there are a lot of start-up companies in Southeast Michigan that need help with public speaking, identity and branding, public relations and other aspects of communication,” said CCC Lead Consultant and Ph.D. student Stephanie Wideman. “Our doctoral students possess of wealth of research, teaching and professional experience to meet that need. The cooperative was conceived as a way to create reciprocal benefits, with Ph.D. students expanding their client base and portfolios, and Detroit-area organizations gaining access to competitively priced, expert consulting.”

Wideman and her doctoral colleagues had a great idea to execute, but didn’t know how to start. Shelly Najor, director of Wayne State’s undergraduate public relations program, suggested Blackstone LaunchPad. Funded out of New York City by The Blackstone Group’s Blackstone Charitable Foundation, Blackstone LaunchPad is the university business laboratory that assists WSU students with business plan development, networking, and venture funding. It turned out to be the perfect place to get started on the cooperative. Blackstone LaunchPad helped the CCC, the overhead costs of which are covered by the communications department through doctoral enhancement funds, conduct a market analysis, develop a business plan, finesse sales pitches, and – most importantly – meet prospective clients.

“When a business is trying to emerge in a market, it’s not a streamlined process,” observed Wideman, who is also a graduate teaching assistant and coach to the WSU Forensics Team. “It’s like using a spear to jab in different places until you find a way to break in. The networking process is crucial, and that’s where Blackstone LaunchPad excels. They know everyone in town, and made important introductions for us.”

On the strength of these introductions, the cooperative got its first “in” – with the Detroit-business incubator TechTown Detroit – and business spread from there.

At present, the cooperative offers consulting in several areas, including argumentation, business communication, health communication, intercultural communication, interpersonal communication, marketing and sales, organizational communication, persuasive messaging, persuasive speaking, political communication, risk communication, and technical and scientific communication. Consulting is provided in the form of group seminars or one-on-one training for individuals. Wideman, who directs the CCC with assistance from doctoral students John Koch, Brandon Bumstead and Minu Basnet, said the cooperative would like to begin offering communication audits as well.

Aubrey Agee, senior program administrator for Blackstone LaunchPad, said the CCC illustrates the diversity of ventures emerging from Wayne State’s student body.

“I hope people will see the CCC and understand that entrepreneurship is not limited to tangible products that are engineered,” Agee said. “Students throughout our schools and colleges have much-needed skills to share in a professional capacity, and service-based ventures like the CCC can thrive with the right planning.”