A class of University Canada West (UCW) MBA students got some hands-on experience helping launch a new business, thanks to the University’s partnership with Riipen.

It is a Thursday afternoon, and three UCW MBA students are talking Fatima-Zohra Hakam, founder and owner of Zora Chocolate, a boutique bean-to-bar chocolate business, through their recommended Instagram influencer strategy. They’re outlining their research, what types of influencers they think the company should target, what to look for when choosing influencers to work with, how to reach out to them and what to offer.

It is the students’ final meeting with Fatima-Zohra. Throughout the term, they met weekly to tackle different aspects, and challenges, of starting a business. One week they would brainstorm ideas around a specific topic or challenge, and a week later, the students would present their findings and  recommendations.

“It was an honour to be a part of your class,” she told the students. “The value that you have provided, you are a part of the Zora team. You have been such a significant and important part [of the company.]

“A lot of the things that we’re going to implement have come from your suggestions, your brainstorming, your strategy and your feedback,” she said.

Through Zora, Fatima-Zohra aims to work directly with West African cocoa growers, elevating them and helping them make living wages.

Fatima-Zohra was paired with the UCW class through Riipen. Riipen brings industry and academia together with real company projects. Projects with real businesses and organizations are embedded directly into the course curriculum or completed as remote internships.

UCW partnered with Riipen in the fall of 2020, and so far, the partnership has been a success.

All three students in the BUSI 641 – Entrepreneurship class said the experience of working closely with a real business was extremely valuable.

“I have learned a lot from this project,” said Xueling Wang. “I didn’t have much work experience before now… Having this opportunity to work with a real company provided many meaningful experiences to me.”

She added that the class allowed them to implement things they learned in a real-life situation.

Aida Coronel said she initially thought about doing an internship but decided against it due to concerns around the COVID-19 pandemic. She said getting to work with Zora through UCW’s partnership with Riipen was the next best thing.

“Having the opportunity to apply what I’ve learned and to learn in the process as well is what made it worth it for me because I got a closer look at how to start a company,” she said.

Angelica Elizaldi Villa said the experience helped tie together things they had learned earlier in their academic journey.

“Certainly, this is the class where I learned the most…. It was such as amazing experience. I’m very grateful for that,” she said. She added that the students were able to build a connection and a relationship with Fatima-Zohra and see how they could bring value to the company.

“I think this experience was really unique and really, really impactful for all of us for many different reasons,” Fatima-Zohra said, adding that she wanted to be as transparent as possible with the students.

“You learn so much more than just this certain project,” she told the students. “I gave you a whole 360 view of what I was dealing with, including the good and the bad, the challenges and the hardships.”

Professor Dr. Larry Earnhart said that he also benefitted from the experience.

“This has had a big influence on me as a teacher,” he said. “I’ve learned a tremendous amount from this interaction… I see everyone grow in this.”

The partnership worked so well that Fatima-Zohra and the three students were making plans to keep in touch once the term ended.

The partnership with Riipen is just one example of how UCW is always looking for new ways to equip students with practical applied skills by bringing real work experiences into the classroom through internships, networking opportunities and real-life case studies.


Published on June 18, 2021.