When then-sophomore Jonathan Lu looked through the list of consulting services group students could join at USC, he realized that none of them cater to startups, a market that he saw potential to grow.
He then talked with his roommate Zach Mollo as well as Chloe Hsu and John McCubbin, and the group created RISE Consulting, a student organization that provides free consulting services for startups. Now in its second semester, RISE, or “Rebels, Innovators, Startups and Entrepreneurs,” is recruiting new members and accepting online applications for the first time and hopes to bring about 20 students onto its team.
Last spring, the organization’s sole client was M. Todd Architect, an architecture firm based in Brooklyn. RISE co-founders Lu, Hsu, McCubbin and Mollo, now juniors at USC, worked with the startup last spring to develop a pricing model and recommend marketing materials and promotional strategies.
“It wasn’t a traditional consulting case, in the sense that it wasn’t like a very specific market entry issue with a startup, for example,” said Mollo, RISE’s vice president of engagement. “It was a lot of general issues for an architecture firm, which we weren’t that experienced in, and starting that first semester was a little difficult to know where we wanted to go.”
The organizations will work with four new start-ups this semester: TruStory, a debate and social network startup; Alpha Aerospace, a drone company run by a USC alum; We Strive, a fitness platform and Robust Choice, a win/loss analysis firm.
Each project lasts 10 weeks, allowing RISE to help its clients through the course of the semester to optimize business and pricing models and create promotional materials. Lu said RISE plans to check in with former clients after their plans are implemented to evaluate their work and progress.
“Maybe three months later, we’ll check in and ask, ‘What are the results?’” Lu said. “We always want to do that and be able to offer that advice, just so we can have those relationships going.”
Getting RISE off the ground presented a few challenges as the club’s founders had to seek potential clients via LinkedIn and startup websites.
“When we first started the org, it was hard to reach out [to startups],” Mollo said. “Our brand wasn’t really that developed. We didn’t really know a lot about consulting and bringing in different founders and things like that.”
Mollo said over 60 students have applied and the executive board will hold group and individual interviews where applicants will work on a case to decide its new membership.
Hsu, the vice president of administration, said the organization will accept students with any level of consulting experience. The organization will hold workshops to teach new members consulting skills like presenting data, making a pitch deck and researching for their case.
A lot of the learning process, however, will be taught throughout the semester as the analysts and engagement managers work with each business.
“The actual engagements and projects that students are going to work on is going to give them real hands-on experience in the field of consulting, and not just looking at profit loss statements,” Mollo said.
Within the organization, members are broken up into four- to five-person subgroups called engagement teams, which are headed by a manager and partnered with one of the four start-ups. This semester, the four founding members of RISE are assuming the managerial roles and leading their new members, whom they call “business analysts,” through the workshops at their weekly three-hour meetings.
Along with teaching its members consulting and business skills, Hsu said the co-founders hope to teach new members how to run the organization, so that after she and her fellow co-founders graduate in 2021, the organization can remain established.
“They’re going to learn not just how to show up and listen to us and take notes, but they’re going to learn how to lead and innovate and implement their ideas,” Hsu said.
Lu said he hopes to eventually double the organization’s size.
“Long-term goal [for the organization], I’m going to guess like 40, 50 people is like a base for how many students we want,” Lu said. “Clients-wise, probably like eight a semester would be really awesome.”
Since RISE doesn’t charge its clients for the services it provides, Lu said the organization has also considered hosting funding initiatives to build a budget and pay for training and development opportunities like guest speakers.
“What’s really great is students get to not only network with these founders, they get to meet a founder of the startup to get them to become inspired,” Mollo said. “They can see what these founders are doing. Just talk with them.”
While RISE has only just started, its founders have big plans to expand and improve, hoping to eventually becoming the premier consulting group on campus.
“Based on the semester, obviously as an up-and-coming organization, there are always problems to tackle,” Mollo said. “But the future of RISE? It’s pretty bright.”
CORRECTIONS: A previous version of this article misspelled TruStory’s name. It has since been updated with the correct spelling.
The story also incorrectly stated that TruStory is a literary startup. According to Lu, TruStory is a debate and social network startup.
The Daily Trojan regrets these errors.