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MBAs Across America students stop in Fargo

FARGO -- Aaron Hill, a co-owner of the Fargo Brewing Co., would like to expand his company's craft beer sales north to Manitoba. He realizes there are a lot of things to consider first, such as the laws regulating the export of goods to a foreign...

MBA students Colin Fraser, clockwise from top, Molly Tafrate, Tally Woff and Nilofer Ahmed, seen Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015, at Fargo Brewing Company, are spending the week there to help the company decide whether to expand into Winnipeg. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
MBA students Colin Fraser, clockwise from top, Molly Tafrate, Tally Woff and Nilofer Ahmed, seen Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015, at Fargo Brewing Company, are spending the week there to help the company decide whether to expand into Winnipeg. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
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FARGO - Aaron Hill, a co-owner of the Fargo Brewing Co., would like to expand his company's craft beer sales north to Manitoba. He realizes there are a lot of things to consider first, such as the laws regulating the export of goods to a foreign country, additional taxes and tariffs, and finding a distribution network. All of that research takes time, and spare time is something he and partners Jared Hardy, Chris Anderson and John Anderson do not have.

This week, they got some help from four students participating in MBAs Across America, a program that pairs master of business administration students with entrepreneurs.

The nonprofit was founded in 2012 by four Harvard Business School students who did not want to spend their summer internship in cubicles in New York or Silicon Valley. Instead, they wanted to travel across the country, working for several businesses along the way.

This is the second consecutive year the Fargo Brewing Co. was selected to participate. Students worked on two projects last year. One looked at the viability of adding a restaurant to the craft brewery, and the other researched an expansion into the Twin Cities market.

Hill said while they are still on the fence about adding a restaurant, the research was very helpful.

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The Twin Cities expansion was a go.

"We took quite a few of their recommendations," Hill said. "One was the distributor they recommended. Two was that we were debating whether hiring a sales rep who lives there or in Fargo. They recommended someone who lives there, so we did hire a full-time sales person there in April. So, a lot of that stuff was extremely helpful for us. They also looked at other breweries in the area and what they were doing well and not so well, things like that."

The business is not the only one to benefit. The program also provides hands-on work experience for the students.

"In our classes, we read a lot of case studies. We read about a case that someone has written for us and we apply theories to it in a very safe environment," said Molly Tafrate, an MBA student from the Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University. "If we're wrong, we're like, 'Oh well.' Here, we're working with real people. It's not just their jobs, it's their life. We're making sure we're doing everything we can to help."

Tafrate and teammates Collin Fraser of the Harvard Business School, Nilofer Ahmed of the Yale School of Management and Ohio State classmate Tally Wolff spent this week gathering information from the Canadian liquor control boards, distributors and other U.S. companies that have sold alcohol in Canada. Tafrate said the goal is to provide Fargo Brewing Co. with information the owners will actually use.

"We're going to provide them with the names of the people we spoke to so they can pick up the phone and pick up where the conversation left off," she said. "We're not leaving them with a big-picture look; it's on-the-ground actionable steps. They can take it and move forward faster than they would be able to if we hadn't had the opportunity to work with them."

Fargo was the third stop for the team that started out earlier this summer in Detroit. They will wrap up their working tour next week in Belgrade, Mont., where they will work for a company that purchases excess produce from farmers and then processes it for soup or other products sold in stores.

For more information about the program, visit www.mbaxamerica.com .

Angie Wieck is the business editor for The Forum. Email her at awieck@forumcomm.com
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