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In their final class before graduation, Layne Cassidy MBA ’15 and Bill Yeager MBA ’15 completed a consulting project for Gridmates, a national crowdfunding initiative that provides energy to low-income families. Over five months, Cassidy and Yeager met weekly with Gridmates’ founder to hammer out the company’s challenges and goals. The pair researched ways to strengthen its peer-to-peer donation model. They outlined potential corporate and nonprofit partners in the energy industry. And they created a marketing strategy designed to increase awareness about the issue of energy poverty and engage potential donors.

“Our client said on day one, ‘Challenge me,’ so we asked questions and brought up potential complications from the very beginning,” says Cassidy. “We knew we needed to make sure the company’s business plan was sound, with a clear understanding of its stakeholders and value proposition. We really had to problem-solve for the long term while providing immediate value for the short term.”

Getting Smart on Energy Poverty

Along the way, they became experts on the subject of energy poverty. “We were able to dig deep and learn this issue inside and out,” says Yeager. “We both felt confident knowing we had the knowledge and skills to evaluate the market — and then communicate our ideas effectively to someone at the executive level.”

To get to that point, they drew on their experiences in the MBA program. Cassidy and Yeager had been part of the team that received the highest score from a panel of investors and judges in the MBA New Venture Creation course for their startup idea and business plan. First place earned them a six-month membership to Capital Factory, a co-working space for the Austin startup scene. There, they had access to technology resources like top-grade recording and editing equipment, along with mentors, who included talented entrepreneurs with successful startups already under their belts.

Gaining Confidence, FTW

“The Gridmates project was a solid, challenging one, but I was comfortable with my marketing skills, and I had practice presenting to clients. I knew I could handle it,” says Yeager, who worked in television production before starting the MBA program. “I also knew Layne and I had an amazing support network in place at Capital Factory — and on campus where our professors regularly answered questions and offered guidance when we needed it.”

When Cassidy wrapped the Gridmates project and graduated last May, she got promoted from part-time intern at a startup to operations manager. “I now lead several projects at work, and my peers recognize me as an excellent project manager,” she says. “I credit this recognition to skills developed during the MBA program — I’ve learned that I can add value minute by minute to any situation.”

The MBA program at St. Edward’s University connects students to the Austin business community through partnerships, internships and class projects, so they’re ready to join the city’s economy.

Stacia Hernstrom is a freelance writer.

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