Seeing the bigger picture: How The Portland Business Support Project is helping local companies

A group of Portland State MBA alumni are proving that a graduate business degree is a worthwhile investment, not just for the individual, but for the community.  

The School of Business has been developing strong partnerships in Portland’s business community for over 50 years, and when the coronavirus pandemic started to impact local companies, alums of The Portland MBA formed a pro bono consulting firm called The Portland Business Support Project (PBSP). 

The idea for PBSP emerged when a small group of alumni were brainstorming what could be done to help local businesses navigate the effects of the pandemic. “As we discussed ways we could help our community,” explains Brad Goodenough (MBA ’19), “it became clear our collective experience and network would lend itself to tackling a wide range of problems businesses would face.”

Initially, the group wasn’t sure whether businesses would actually seek their help. “The response has been tremendous and indicative of the need,” says Goodenough. “More than 60 local businesses, including coffee shops, medical providers, hair salons, and construction companies, have reached out for assistance.” Along with the growing demand, PBSP scaled up, welcoming more Portland State graduate business alumni to the team from across industries and functional areas.  

Because each company has its own set of challenges, there is no uniform approach. It was critical that the consultant team have a diverse skillset. “The majority of our consultants have deep expertise in a particular skill or functional area of business, so we are able to pull in individuals with skills that align with the challenges the business owner is facing,” says Goodenough.

Another value PBSP’s diverse team of consultants brought was a disruption of tunnel vision. Especially amid adversity or crisis, business leaders can become so focused on a single issue that they lose sight of innovative solutions or opportunities. The PBSP consultants help their clients explore paths they may have overlooked. That’s one reason why The Portland MBA was invaluable for these alums: “The knowledge and skills from the MBA,” argues Goodenough, “help us see the bigger picture, which enables us to explore problems and solutions in ways the business owner was unable to on their own.”   

With these skills in-hand, Goodenough notes that PBSP has been able to “provide a strategic sounding board, along with operational planning, financial analysis and marketing support, based on a client’s needs” with deliverables ranging from breakeven analyses to customer mapping.

While each company has unique problems to address, the consultants have noticed a common theme among those that are navigating the pandemic best. “Businesses that are transparently engaging with their core customers have been able to shift their focus more successfully,” says Goodenough. 

With the help of PSU’s graduate business alumni, these local companies are reexamining their operations. It’s a challenging endeavor, but also a rare opportunity. As Goodenough puts it, “A blank whiteboard, fresh perspectives, and out of the box thinking is what is going to help businesses manage through this pandemic.”

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