Hand touching a laptop computer screen

As a caretaker for two kittens, a dog and a hamster, Linh Tran clearly has a deep emotional connection with animals and their welfare. She even worked at a pet store, where part of her job was spent helping “pet parents” select the right food for their four-legged family members.

It’s fitting, then, that Tran, a logistics major, was drawn to an opportunity to combine her love of animals with her interest in global business. 

She and three other undergraduate teammates represented Fisher in winning the 2021 National Association of Small Business International Trade Educators (NASBITE) International Student Case Competition. The challenge? Developing an export strategy for VeRUS, a Maryland-based pet food company.

The team, which topped 19 others from across the U.S., Mexico and Canada, analyzed data and identified an EU location as an ideal export location for VeRUS. They presented their findings to company leadership and provided them with a variety of resources that would help illustrate the team’s recommendations.  

Linh Tran
Linh Tran

In addition to the opportunity to gain global experience by solving a real challenge for a real company, the international competition helped the Fisher team, comprised of Alex Klosterman, Paul Morrissey, Taylor Sienerth and Tran, to build confidence in their leadership abilities.

“It also gave me more insight into my shortcomings, and with the support of my team and our case coach, Roberta Winch, my project management and presentation skills improved exponentially,” Tran said. 

Winch is director of the Export Assistance Network at the State of Ohio Small Business Development Center, a partner with Fisher.

As part of the competition, Tran also enlisted the help of her beloved pets to assist with the project.

“I purchased some of VeRUS’s pet food to not only inspect the physical product, as we wanted to see their labeling situation, but also have my Shih-Tzu be a taste tester!” she said.

Klosterman, a marketing major, said the experience exposed him to new constructive criticism and helped build his confidence.

Alex Klosterman
Alex Klosterman

“Working with NASBITE judges and VeRUS leadership also added depth to preexisting relationships with members of my network and introduced me to new people altogether,” he said.

Klosterman enjoyed the challenge of sifting through the data and concepting an innovative solution. But, like his teammate, there was more to it for him.

“As a team, we were able to draw connections between our personal lives and the professional nature of the work we were doing,” he said. “As a pet owner, I was happy to work with a company that valued holistic formulas, and coming from a military family, I appreciated the opportunity to work with a veteran-owned business.” 

Morrissey also appreciated that the company was veteran-owned; he had just completed active duty in the Middle East and returned to Fisher to complete his degree.  Sienerth, who will start her law degree this fall at Ohio Northern University, provided the team with legal research to ensure compliance issues were in place.

Joyce Steffan
Joyce Steffan

Joyce Steffan, senior director of Fisher’s Office of Global Business, said the college’s participation in the event demonstrated its commitment to providing students with all kinds of experiential, global learning opportunities.

“Working with a real client in a real situation is a meaningful learning experience,” she said. “This experience exposes them to successful businesses that are exporting, government agencies where there are many career opportunities in this sector, as well as service providers who assist companies every day to complete the exporting process.”  

It also provided a tremendous networking opportunity for students to connect with company representatives and others through the NASBITE annual conference.

The NASBITE competition was a natural next step for the Fisher students, all of whom had completed the Ohio Export Internship Program (OEIP). The program, which originated at Fisher in 2012, helps small businesses across the state expand or discover new global markets by pairing them with students who have completed export-focused coursework at various Ohio universities and colleges.

“Applying for a spot in the Ohio Export Internship Program is competitive and provides students with access to compelling experiences that can turn into a full-time job or a network of professionals who are available for future connections,” Steffan said.

And it can shape a student’s academic and professional journey.

“My future career plans will now likely lean toward an organization that revolves around pets and pet products,” Linh said. “The project was much more enjoyable knowing that the end consumer was going to be an adorable cat or loveable dog!”