For Smaller Projects Rent an MBA Student

Got a small project and a small budget? For some companies nowadays, the solution is simple: Rent a business school grad student to do the work. This jibes so perfectly with what might come from our strategic partnership with the Samford University Brock School of Business that I just had to share it.

A new breed of job sites has cropped up to match business-school students with companies seeking short-term help and project work. The companies get trained talent to help with marketing, planning and budgeting for a fraction of what they would have to pay consulting firms. For the students, the weeks- or months-long freelance projects can sharpen their skills before they start a full-time job or provide some extra cash on the side.

HourlyNerd, created by three business school students and backed by investor Mark Cuban, has signed on more than 2,700 M.B.A. consultants from top-tier business schools and coordinated about 150 projects since its September 2013 debut. Last fall, American Apparel used HourlyNerd Inc. to streamline a weekly marketing spending report. They offered $1,400 for about 20 hours of work and got a Harvard Business School grad student to do it. “It’s the kind of expense that goes on a credit card,” says American Apparel’s Ryan Holiday. An outdoor-education non-profit used HourlyNerd to find two M.B.A. students for a couple of strategic projects. The final product was 90% of what they might have received from a better-known consulting firms at about 20% of the cost.

A private-equity firm used another matchmaker, SkillBridge Inc., last fall to find someone to create an information packet that helped the firm assess an investment opportunity. The project, completed by a student from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, took about 30 hours and cost around $5,000. Ordinarily, the Rye, N.Y.-based company would have hired an established consulting firm to do the work, and it still does that—for some projects. But those contracts often run to six figures.

That flexibility appeals to the consultants, too. Bianca Fargnoli, a Wharton student, signed up for five weeks of part-time work helping an upstart San Francisco hotel company create a business plan. Katie Wright wanted to fill some free time during her second year at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. The 26-year-old has completed two part-time assignments through HourlyNerd. The independent work suits her, she said. “I like that level of ownership."

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