288 eyes analyzing a single St. Louis business

How many memberships does RISE Collaborative Workspace have to sell to reach its break-even point? Is is 152? Or 132? Or closer to just 40? It was one of the problems undergraduate business students grappled with in Michael McLaughlin’s “managerial accounting” class last week.

In fact, dozens of them grappled with that and numerous other questions. Three sections of the class, in teams ranging from four to eight students—144 in all—honed their newly formed analytical skills on Stacy Taubman’s real-world business, a women-focused, women-owned co-working space in its first year of operation.

Taubman opened her books to the class hoping a fresh collection of new eyes would uncover new insights into her business, demonstrate support for a planned expansion—and offer a great learning experience for students.

“Theory and practice are often very different,” said Taubman, who, with her team, sat through three sets of presentations from students who had dug into the numbers. “I just wanted a set of really smart eyes taking a look at what we’re doing.”

As it turns out, Taubman said, the third team of 48 students was closest to the real break-even point, but the specifics weren’t really the point.

“Having the opportunity to work alongside a real client in the industry made the material more enjoyable and engaging,” said Ariana Phillips, BSBA ’19, who is majoring in finance and Spanish. “Not only were we able to improve our teamwork skills, but we were also able to network with RISE professionals while better understanding their business model.”

Students dug into a variety of financial components to Taubman’s business, producing analyses of its variable and fixed costs, cost-volume profit, sales and expense budget, most profitable membership types, and a planned expansion to Denver.

Taubman was up-front about her lack of business credentials. Still, RISE is her second startup: She launched a tutoring company in 2013 while still teaching. She said the exercise with McLaughlin’s students gave her comfort that she was on the right track and that the expansion was worth pursuing.

“We wanted this to be real to students,” said McLaughlin, who had been friends with Taubman and knew of her interest in opening up the books for students.

“Our involvement in the RISE project was the quintessential way to apply the accounting knowledge we had accumulated over the course of the semester and actually see how and where it is used in the workplace,” Phillips said.

Pictured above: Student Alissa Geller, BSBA ’20, presents to Stacy Taubman, in the dark dress, center, front row.

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