It is tough to come up with good ideas, even more challenging to get a client’s buy-in—and to do all that as a mere student? Impossible, you might say.

Well, not for ESSEC Master in Strategy and International Business (SMIB) students Emma Filipecki, Daksh Garg, and Pauline Grimault, who obtained client funding for their idea at this year’s Asian Strategy Challenge (ASC).

This is because the ASC is different from any other school project. “Students do not go through a ‘dilettante’ experience but a real project with ambitious expectations from the companies who need the work as part of their business activity,” Anne-Flore Maman Larraufie, Academic Director of SMIB, ESSEC, explains.

This means companies treat students as real consultants and respect their suggestions.

Lessons the Classroom Can’t Teach

As for students, working closely with their partner companies helps them pick up relevant soft skills.

This includes “being able to navigate through uncertainties, and knowing when to ask for updates or meetings, or when to push a client,” Assel Mussagaliyeva, Manager, Industry Consulting Projects, ESSEC Business School, Asia-Pacific, adds.

The lessons revolved around client and vendor management for Emma and the team.

They were tasked to help Singapore-based beauty brand Supernova become carbon-negative but got stuck at the first step of calculating the company’s carbon footprint.

“We realized our calculations wouldn’t be accurate and help the company achieve carbon footprint certification, so we did a benchmark study of different companies, interviewed them, and looked at their past projects to make a recommendation to the client,” Pauline shares.

Their rigor convinced the client, who agreed to provide the budget.

The ASC taught problem-solving to Durga Gopalan, Charlotte Ysebaert, and Damien Seite-Appriou.

Their brief, to help Heineken become more sustainable and cost-efficient by increasing the returnable packaging material (RPM), required them to be adept at using the data visualization tool Power IB. They went from knowing nothing about the system to being able to create a dashboard for the client to use.

Delivering Different Metrics for Success

Their efforts paid off, as in the case of SuperNova, Heineken, too, shared that they would take the student team’s recommendations and use the dashboard for future predictions.

To Assel, this acknowledgment from the company is more indicative of project success than any grade could be. Better yet, she adds, is if the client offers a student a recommendation letter, internship, or even a job, as they did for Luyao Xu.

Together with her teammates Tatyana Kovpak and Kanishk Ostwal, Luyao worked on a project to help Onduline, a French roofing manufacturer, raise its digital presence in Indonesia. Testament to their quality of work, Onduline began implementing some of the team’s ideas mid-way through the project.

Upon completion, the company was impressed enough to invite the students to share their ideas with the global team—and Luyao was eventually offered a chance to interview for a full-time role at Onduline’s Shanghai office.

“Examples like this demonstrate the long-term value of the SMIB program—that the lessons gained can carry students through the trajectory of studying and getting good results, all the way to securing a job,” Assel says.