University-Industry Partnerships Prove Beneficial for Students and Businesses
January 11, 2023
The E. J. Ourso College of Business serves as a catalyst for innovation, economic growth, and community development by preparing future business leaders, engaging with local businesses, and conducting scholarly research efforts to address ongoing and emerging concerns throughout Louisiana. Partnering with industry is one way the college brings this vision to life for our students and community. In general, partnership with industry provides students with practical learning opportunities and allows them to expand their professional networks. At the same time, businesses can gain industry-specific knowledge from professors and hear innovative solutions from students on different ways to reach their target markets.
"University-industry partnerships are win-win situations for everyone involved. These partnerships can not only result in experiential learning opportunities in the classroom, but businesses can gain access to expert knowledge from professors and fresh perspectives from students. They are an effective way to simultaneously elevate classroom learning and add value to the local business community."
Professor Gabe Piccoli, LSU SDEIS
One of the most recent industry partnerships formed in the E. J. Ourso College was with City Group Hospitality (CGH), a group of restaurant concepts in Baton Rouge, and LSU Stephenson Department of Entrepreneurship and Information Systems Professor Gabe Piccoli. Coming out of the pandemic, CGH Managing Partner Stephen Hightower saw how much of CGH’s business over the past three years relied on online orders. He was left wondering how this would affect his restaurants in the long run and saw an opportunity for an answer through a partnership with LSU.
How did the partnership develop between Hightower and Piccoli?
Hightower met Piccoli, an expert in the digitalization of the hospitality industry, while on a local radio show in 2021 and realized that Piccoli possessed the unique skillset he needed to fully understand the digital transformation of the hospitality business.
During their radio conversation, both Piccoli and Hightower were enlightened with each other’s perspectives of the hospitality business. From there, they started having regular meetings to discuss CGH’s journey in understanding how third-party delivery shaped their business during Covid and where things could go next.
Third-party food delivery apps were a lifeline of sales for CGH during the pandemic, but Hightower knew that wouldn’t always be the case. Piccoli encouraged him that the pandemic could have sparked a complete lifestyle change for his customer base, and he should work to retain as much of that online business as possible. This involved CGH creating its own in-house marketing department in hopes of seeing real ROI from its marketing efforts. In addition, Hightower partnered with Piccoli to better understand incremental sales gained through third-party delivery apps to determine if CGH should stick with those apps or solely use a native platform for online delivery.
Turning a Business Dilemma into a Harvard Business Publishing Case
Throughout his time in academia, Piccoli has written numerous cases for Harvard Business Publishing, and ultimately was approved to write a case based on CGH’s dilemma of using a native delivery platform or staying with third-party food delivery apps to increase incremental sales. To be included in third-party food delivery apps, restaurants are required to pay a higher percentage of sales to third parties resulting in an upcharge to guests. This is not the case with a native delivery platform, which could help CGH develop a closer digital relationship with its guests.
The Final Outcome
When Piccoli’s students were presented with the Harvard Business Publishing case, they brought to light many factors that never occurred to Hightower. For example, not being included in the list of restaurants on third-party apps could essentially hurt online sales. If they only used a native delivery platform, guests would have to be already convinced that they wanted to order from a CGH restaurant. With third-party apps, seeing the names of the restaurants can sometimes spark unplanned sales. Given all the facts, the students concluded that a hybrid approach of a native delivery platform and inclusion on third-party apps would be the best solution if the data analyzed proved that money was being spent efficiently.
Hightower described the value of partnering with Piccoli as a business-altering experience.
"It was a monumental shift for me to engage with LSU SDEIS Professor Gabe Piccoli. To be a real business leader, you must seek out other perspectives, so I would encourage everyone to take advantage of the incredible resource that is LSU. This partnership has rejuvenated me to take City Group Hospitality to another level."
Stephen Hightower, CGH Managing Partner
Today, CGH is in the process of analyzing data to ensure they take the most effective approach to online sales. According to Hightower, CGH will evaluate each individual concept before coming up with its next move. Currently, it has a native delivery platform and still participates in third-party apps.
Hightower hopes this relationship is something that can continue to grow. He added that Piccoli’s overall approach to teaching and empowering his students helped Hightower learn a lot about his business. According to Hightower, diving into the students’ ideas and solutions took him on a completely different route than he initially thought. Delivery services are 3-5% of CGH’s total sales, and after this process, Hightower is now excited at the possibility of including new technology into CGH’s operations to help its continued growth.