Accounting students team up to help social ventures

Capstone Raw Honey founder David Young

Capstone Raw Honey founder David Young, left, worked with Freeman student Carlos Wilson, right, to upgrade his accounting system as part of an innovative service learning project.

Capstone New Orleans began as a nonprofit that grows food on vacant lots in the Lower 9th Ward and distributes it to people in need at little or no cost, but founder David Young soon got the sweet idea to begin selling honey (he’s also a beekeeper) as a way to support the food giveaways.

Capstone Raw Honey was a hit with consumers, thrusting Young into the new role of culinary entrepreneur, but as the company began to expand its retail sales, he found himself in serious need of an accounting upgrade.

“It wasn’t necessarily shoebox accounting, but I had what I call desk-drawer accounting,” Young says. “As long as I was a small nonprofit, it was fine, because all I had to do was keep track of myself. But as we’ve grown larger, it’s become more imperative to keep track of what the actual expenses are and where the money is coming in and going out.”

To help organize his books, Young turned to an innovative service learning course created through a collaboration of the A. B. Freeman School of Business and Propeller, a nonprofit that works with New Orleans-based social ventures.

Last fall, 14 Master of Accounting students — a mix of BSM/MACCT and MACCT candidates — were selected to work with 18 social entrepreneurs in need of financial accounting assistance. While a primary objective of the course was to get the entrepreneurs up and running with QuickBooks, the students also helped
their ventures understand the principles of accounting and the impact of various financial decisions.

“It was a good match,” says accounting lecturer Quoc Hoang, who led the project on behalf of the Freeman School. “We have socially-minded students who have the financial accounting skills that Propeller was looking for, and they have social entrepreneurs who our students could really learn from.”

Carlos Wilson (BSM/MACCT ’16), who led the team that helped Young convert his bookkeeping system to QuickBooks, says the experience was a valuable bookend to his busy season internship.

“When you’re an intern, you’re getting coffee, you’re filing, you’re doing general administrative things,” Wilson says. “I wanted to take on more of a leadership role in accounting, so being the main point of contact on a client was really enlightening.”

The project was especially meaningful for non-U.S. students, who make up a large majority of the one-year MACCT program. While international students are limited in terms of work and internships due to visa restrictions, the Propeller project gave them a chance to gain practical experience that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible.

“It was attractive to me because it was experiential,” says Lucy Ren, a MACCT student from China. “In school, we learn the skills and know how to apply them on exams, but we don’t know how they would actually work in real life. I wanted to work with a venture and apply the knowledge I was learning in school.” While it’s uncertain if the course will continue in its current format, Freeman School Dean Ira Solomon says it embodies the kind of community-oriented programs the business school is pursuing through the Lepage Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

“One of the goals of the Lepage Center is to expand experiential learning opportunities, particularly those that allow students to gain skills outside the classroom while positively impacting the community,” says Solomon. “This program was a great example of that, and it’s a model we hope to employ in the future.”

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