Quinnipiac University

Life lessons in global business

March 29, 2021

Two people talk in Nicaragua

Business ownership has long been a dream for people all around the world. As part of a virtual J-term course, MBA 660: Decision Making in Global Economics, 24 Quinnipiac MBA students recently learned that lesson up close.

The students helped eight Nicaraguan business owners acquire the capital they needed to seize their entrepreneurial goals. The course included microlending funded by the School of Business, a program that has provided tens of thousands of dollars to small businesses in Nicaragua since 2010.

In all, eight groups of Quinnipiac MBA students worked with borrowers on interest rates, repayment schedules and budgeting. In some cases, they identified investment, marketing, distribution and positioning opportunities as well.

“This experience forced students to become both business analysts and bankers,” said Mario Norbis, a professor of management who taught the course. “More than that, they were exposed to Nicaraguan culture and what living and doing business in Latin American society is like.”

Borrowers hailed from cities such as León, Estelí, Granada and Managua, the country’s capital. Some ran sustainable farms, others operated cafes, coffee companies and a shop specializing in children’s school uniforms.

The loans ranged from $250-$730 and covered the purchase of farm equipment, an industrial stove, a refrigerator, a motorcycle and other immediate needs.

“That kind of money can go far in an economy like Nicaragua’s,” Norbis said. “Theirs is a different economic and cultural reality than what we are used to in the United States.”

Helping Nicaragua’s small business owners navigate this reality was a learning experience for Francesco Mazzella, MBA `21, a student in the MBA program’s supply chain management track.

Mazzella worked with Chase Verdia ’21, MBA `22, a 3+1 accelerated dual-degree student, to help Stick Coffee, a León-based organic coffee farm and roasting company. Stick Coffee used its loan to cover the costs to ship a batch of their Arabica coffee beans to potential roasters and buyers in the United States.

Stick’s goal is to become a major player in the highly competitive U.S. coffee market. Mazzella is so confident in Stick’s product that he’s working with the People’s United Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship to import Stick’s first shipment of coffee.

“We believe we can support Stick Coffee in this process and build the infrastructure for other businesses looking to come to the U.S. market,” Mazzella said.

Although COVID-19 prevented the students from traveling to Nicaragua, they still connected with Nicaraguan host families; toured coffee plantations, tobacco farms and other agricultural production facilities; and visited several culturally and historically significant sites. They also participated in a cooking class that covered various staples of Nicaraguan cuisine.

Samantha Loud ’20, MBA ‘21, another 3+1 accelerated dual-degree student, called the class one of the most transformative she’s had at Quinnipiac. Loud’s team worked with Café La Cruz, a coffee delivery company based in Estelí.

“It was great to know that my work is actually affecting the lives of real entrepreneurs trying to make a name for their business,” Loud said.

She learned the importance of the partnership between Quinnipiac and Alianza Americana, an educational institution based in León.

For Erin Sabato, Quinnipiac’s director of international service and learning, the course showed students the importance of sustaining impactful, global partnerships in times of crisis.

Sabato sees the microlending course as a model that can be replicated, improved upon and applied to other programs across Quinnipiac’s other schools.

“The pandemic really forced us to think about how to continue educating our students on critical topics,” Sabato said. “I’m grateful for the leadership of Mario and Dean [Matthew] O’Connor, and that the School of Business continues to see the value in this.”

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