In the past, firms—large and small—either employed staff to handle typical day-to-day business functions or hired expensive consultants to take on special projects. Today, one new start-up is helping to reduce academic debt by offering small businesses an option that bypasses the high cost of consultants and permanent staff.

Harvard Business School students offer business services which help pay off their pricey MBAs and assist small firms that are often operating on skeletal budgets and with reduced staff. “It’s a pretty good deal both for MBAs and for businesses,” says Rob Biederman, 26, a first-year Harvard Business School student and co-founder of HourlyNerd.com, a class project-cum-business start-up. Peter Maglathlin and Pat Petitti are the other founders. “For MBAs, it’s a way to make money and an attractive thing to have on your resume, and for small businesses, it can be a great leveler; it means access to high-quality labor but in a flexible and low-cost way,” Biederman notes.

In an economy in which small business owners have no time to create any long- or short-term business plans outside of simply staying afloat, these fledgling entrepreneurs offer services seen in consulting, investment banking, and accounting firms at slashed prices. Biederman points out that “Small businesses need to start growing revenue again because there’s no more cost cutting.” But, growing revenue continues to be a challenge in today’s downturn. “They need to explore ways of growing revenue without committing to a full-time hire,” Biederman adds.

The group, which began operations in February, offers services from some 450 MBA students from the top business schools nationwide and internationally and nearly 50 business have come on board. Students are matched with business projects that range from bookkeeping and accounting to formulating concept and strategy to building a social media platform to better understanding today’s technological geography. For a company looking to change a business model, to re-establish its footprint in the business community, or to clean up stale accounting processes, for example, the model enables the use of a low-cost expert to help restart a business that doesn’t have the capital to begin hiring, but is ready to make changes in advance of expansion.

Here’s how it works: Businesses post what they want on the site and MBAs and masters candidates place bids along with their resumes and a short pitch that discusses how long the project should take and what they would like to be paid. MBAs typically charge from $25 to $50 per hour. The business then reviews the bids and makes its choice based on candidate experience, cost, and scheduling. Hourly Nerd hangs on to the money pending project completion and charges businesses 10 percent and students five percent.

Sources:

Wee, Heesun. “Small business with a problem? Now you can rent a nerd by the hour”, NBC News. 4/11/13.

Szaniszlo, Marie. “Co. offers low-cost MBA advisers“, Boston Herald. 4/22/13.

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