Since 2006, SEED Consulting has been providing an avenue for students to engage in real-world management consulting and strategic advisory services. Though it has a history of collaborating with many startups among the student org’s business and nonprofit clients, the group’s extensive training and professional development opportunities empower its members to work with organizations at every stage of business development.
SEED President Neil Kothari (McIntire ’23) was drawn to join when, as a pre-Comm student, he saw that the group “offered the opportunity to work on projects with real companies,” he says, explaining that it provided a perfect fit for gaining experience in business. It proved to be much more than that. “I like to describe it as an incubator, where students have the space to explore concepts in business in a safe environment, while contributing solutions to real problems in the community.”
For Echols and Jefferson Scholar Jane Lyons (McIntire ’23), SEED’s VP of Training and Development, the student org offered a chance to reinforce her Commerce School education while making a difference in the community. “It has been exciting to employ knowledge garnered from coursework into real-life consulting efforts designed to help businesses in Charlottesville and beyond with their current business problems,” she says.
Her Comm School and SEED colleague Tobias Abramenko (McIntire ’23) found that the org’s consulting focus piqued his interest as well. The org’s VP of Projects and External Relations was also similarly moved that building his skills “while helping communities and furthering social impact” offered a fitting and uplifting means of strengthening and refining his consulting abilities.
As members of the group affiliated with both McIntire and the Batten School for Public Policy assist businesses and nonprofits alike to achieve a greater level of efficiency, their ongoing commitment to their clients fosters growth locally and globally.
Abramenko says that SEED has opened many doors for him. In particular, his position on the group’s executive board has given the Management and IT concentrator access to firsthand learning from organizations at different development stages and in a variety of areas he may not have otherwise discovered.
“We recently worked with a startup founded by UVA School of Medicine alumni that helps reduce waste in operating rooms. The business was completely new—and in an industry I knew nothing about—so it was fascinating,” he says.
Like all of us, SEED members have had their time impacted by the pandemic, but that hasn’t hampered their ability to stay involved in the organization. Lyons says that SEED was still capable of “providing a gratifying opportunity to develop workable solutions for emerging business ventures, especially those within the Charlottesville community.” Engaging in those problem-solving efforts has allowed her to learn to build effective teams and give back. The initiatives have also been instrumental in helping form a budding career in consulting.
“This past summer, I was fortunate to secure an internship at a private equity firm in Boston, and my client-facing experiences through SEED positioned me to tackle analysis and asset-sourcing responsibilities from day one,” Lyons says.
While the group solves issues for clients located both within the Central Virginia region and abroad, Kothari explains that working relationships between members with clients closer to Grounds allow for student consultants to better understand the challenges unique to Charlottesville organizations. The results of those connections reinforce their knowledge while expanding capacity for creating positive change at the local level.
“To me, social entrepreneurship is about finding solutions to problems that people in our local communities face day-to-day,” says the Commerce and Statistics double major. “SEED Consulting helps us do just that.”
A True Team Effort
Despite the obvious resonance with McIntire students, the group holds a strong attraction for both pre-Comm hopefuls and non-McIntire students as well. Recently admitted Comm School student Courtney Schoeb (McIntire ’24), the group’s VP of Membership, had previously fallen into the former camp of SEED members.
The Echols Scholar double major in Studio Art and Commerce says that she had been aware of the group ever since a now-graduated McIntire alumni mentor of hers spoke highly of the role that SEED played in her own time on Grounds; that association with the org ultimately resulted in obtaining a position at Bain and Co. Hearing that enthusiastic review—as well as taking a J-term Consulting course that solidified Schoeb’s interest—she joined the group and quickly became heavily involved.
After reading Kothari’s strategic plan, she was driven to apply for an executive board position. Schoeb notes that while she hadn’t expected to work in membership, Kothari let her know that her high energy fit the bill. Responsible for the overall well-being of the org’s community, Schoeb and her team manage social events, social media, and “intensive recruiting efforts.”
She says the group has supplied her with the experience of close team collaboration that she was seeking.
“There’s a lot of self-governance involved, and our group has created a really successful dynamic with one another. Knowing where your strengths lie and acknowledging who is better adept at certain tasks have been a huge part of my learning to let go, and a reminder that you can’t do it all solo,” Schoeb says.
Lyons says that she’s always been a people person, and working with others has been natural for her. But SEED projects have still proven challenging for the Commerce and Global Development Studies double major.
“Learning to create work streams, delegate, and manage those work streams is a skill that can only be mastered with experience. Thankfully, through the SEED support system, I was able to grow exponentially in this area in a short time, and now I believe it to be one of my strengths,” she says. “In any career, leaders are asked to communicate with a variety of types of people. Learning to communicate with individuals to effectively foster their growth is vital for positive group dynamics and efficiently completing projects. This has been one of the most significant lessons to come from my experiences to date and one that I believe will serve me incredibly well in all aspects of my life.”
Abramenko’s first experience as a Project Leader proved to be challenging when he oversaw a team of five during the height of the pandemic. “There was that added difficulty of communication and collaboration, but I learned a ton during those 10 weeks that we worked on the project, including how to best delegate tasks, maintain engagement and excitement, and communicate expectations with clients,” he says. “It was very rewarding and allowed me to realize my passion for leadership.”
Learning from his peers and having the benefits of mentorship have been most important during Kothari’s time in SEED. He recalls how, early on, fourth-year members helped him to better format his presentation decks to be more professional. “They took the time out of their busy schedules to support the growth of an underclassman, even if they didn’t get any personal value from it. While this was a minor fix, I learned the power of learning from my peers and mentors, along with the attention to detail required when working with clients,” says the Commerce and Statistics double major. “Having student mentors was a game changer for me. Mentors such as former SEED President Karen Lin (McIntire ’22) were so helpful.”
Doing Meaningful Work
For SEED’s members, the consulting projects have provided learning experiences that they carry with them as they continue to prepare for their careers.
Working with education startup iXperience in Kothari’s first semester with the student org proved seminal. With a goal to modernize its cloud computing courses, the project required technological research, understanding the competitive landscape, and formulating an effective value proposition for the nascent service. “We came up with a recommendation that included a partnership with AWS to provide an internship experience to those who completed the iXperience program. Within months, we saw this recommendation implemented. It was rewarding to see our recommendations taken into consideration by our clients and impacting real students to this day.”
During her time with SEED, Lyons had one particular opportunity that stands out among the many projects she tackled. It occurred in fall 2021, when she was consulting with a small Charlottesville business. “I was able to work closely with the founder of the company to implement ideas in real time, see the immediate impact, and adjust my team’s recommendations accordingly. Working alongside a business leader who held the utmost respect for and trust in my team made this a positive and rewarding consulting experience that each of us will never forget,” says Lyons, who will serve as a Business Analyst Intern for McKinsey & Company in Atlanta this summer.
For Abramenko, his first project with SEED was particularly memorable. It came during his third semester at UVA, when he worked on a project for global education nonprofit FinMango. Upon meeting CEO Scott Glasgow, Abramenko and his team strove to meet the client’s needs by thoroughly investigating every resource at their disposal. “Our objective was to create a financial literacy report on Argentina and Brazil. We networked like crazy to find primary sources who could speak on the subject and spent hours doing research and analyzing data, and after 10 weeks, we had authored a 25-page paper and presented it to FinMango in a 10-minute presentation that everyone on the team was very proud of.”
The positive results continued beyond SEED’s involvement, when Glasgow reached out to Abramenko, asking him to remain with the nonprofit. “I loved the experience so much that I joined as a volunteer and have been working for them for over a year now.”
In addition to the consultation experience the student org provides, it has also allowed Commerce students to connect with each other and their McIntire coursework in new ways.
Lyons says that SEED has allowed her to collaborate with Comm students across blocks and form relationships with peers in other concentrations. It also creates the opportunity for McIntire students to newly envision and understand their education, as the work the students do for their clients puts their coursework “to the real-world test,” she says. “My ICE experience fortified my confidence in preparing for and conducting client calls, as well as contributing to my ability to effectively manage a project team. I also feel that I add value to the classroom when I am able to call upon my case work experiences to enhance discussions.”
No less important, the group provides an advantage to those members who are undertaking McIntire’s hallmark Integrated Core curriculum for the first time. “I developed a ton of skills through SEED that have made my transition to the Comm School easier,” Abramenko says. “A lot of hard skills I learned through the weekly training sessions that SEED offers have become very valuable with my coursework now. But I think even more importantly, the soft skills, including how to give important presentations, how to work in a team to meet deadlines, how to be a leader and facilitate communication—all those things are extremely valuable—not just to McIntire but to everyday life.”