Spinal Cord Injury BC worked with Master of Management students Ellen and her team to see if their provocative new t-shirt line could boost revenues.
For over 60 years Spinal Cord Injury BC (SCI BC) has helped people with life changing injuries adjust, adapt and thrive. As a not-for-profit organization they continually strive to raise the funds they need to run vital services and have an impact throughout the province.
Recently, the organization designed a line of t-shirts that it hopes will provide a new revenue stream. “The shirts add a cheeky twist to Vancouver’s active lifestyle trends with ironic slogans like: “I hate running” and “How we roll,” says Communications Lead Maya Pankalla about the apparel which aims to use humour to empower people with disabilities.
“At SCI BC we see disability in the modern way and take a really open and playful approach to a lot of the work we do. These slogans are meant to be funny, open up dialogue and encourage people to normalize disability.”
After launching a pilot project with just a few shirts that drew positive feedback from both disabled and able-bodied communities, SCI BC wanted help to scale up the t-shirt campaign into a bigger e-commerce-powered venture.
So Pankalla and her team signed on as clients of UBC Sauder’s Community Business Project program, a six-month partnership that pairs local nonprofits with Masters of Management students who work as consultants. SCI BC tasked a team of five students with producing a feasibility study and marketing strategy to see if their t-shirts would offer a viable stream of revenue to support their activities.
Says MM student, Ellen Lee, whose previous degree is in sociology and psychology, “I’m excited to put my new business skills to work to help Spinal Cord Injury BC generate new profits that ultimately end up helping people with disabilities.”
Growing up in Taiwan, Lee was influenced by her parents’ success in running their own company. “I always wanted to do something in business, career-wise, so it made sense to do an MM after my undergraduate studies,” she says.
In researching schools, Lee discovered that the nine-month Master of Management, offered by UBC Sauder’s Robert H. Lee Graduate School, would equip her with a toolkit of business skills to significantly widen her career opportunities.
The UBC MM’s strong reputation was also a factor. “At the info session I learnt that the UBC MM is ranked number one in North America – that was a huge draw for me,” says Lee.
Now half-way through the program, Lee credits extra-curricular opportunities at the school as well as the real-world work experience on the Community Business Project with boosting her confidence, communications and leadership skills. “I’m on the student executive team of the MM Student Society as VP International so I advise and support other students who arrive from different countries.”
For the MM Community Business Project with SCI BC, Lee said her team’s first step was to develop surveys for both the disabled and able-bodied communities to clarify demand for the t-shirts and potential for other apparel like hats and phone cases.
“We’ve also helped them define their target markets, focusing on North America rather than globally,” says Lee. Meanwhile, the team is researching manufacturing options, e-commerce platforms and marketing strategies that lay out projected costs and estimated revenues. It’s proving complex and Lee is grateful for the mentoring from her UBC Sauder professors and the skills and strategies she can apply from her courses.
Pankalla hopes to have the SCI BC t-shirt campaign in market by the summer and is confident that the MM team will provide the right guidance and approach.
“I really look forward to seeing the results we get, but already the experience with Ellen Lee and her MM team has been very valuable,” says Pankalla. “They’ve all set out clear-cut roles for themselves which has made the process extremely efficient, and the students’ diverse backgrounds – including clothing manufacturing - brings so much to the table.
Since 2011, UBC Sauder has partnered with almost 100 Community Business Project clients, several of whom return repeatedly for support from MM students and even go on to hire grads.
“We’ve partnered with UBC Sauder before and it was also such a positive experience,” says Pankalla. “Historically we’ve found the students to be absolutely engaged and brilliant when it comes to marketing and business.”