Lewis Honors Students Place 3rd in Small Business Institute's Project of the Year Competition

photo of Lewis Honors students
(From left to right) Patrick Huckleberry, Patrick Walker (faculty), Ashley Watkins and Aisley Stuebs. Not featured are Madelyn Buckingham and Taylor McDaniels because they have graduated since the May 2020 course. Photo by Meghan Arrell.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 19, 2021) — Recently, a team of students from the University of Kentucky Lewis Honors College finished in third place in the Small Business Institute’s Project of the Year, in the Specialized Case Analysis category.

The students were enrolled in Patrick Walker’s "The New C.E.O.: Chief Entrepreneurial Officer" course.

The Small Business Institute’s Project of the Year competition is an annual competition for member institutions and their faculty to involve students in practical consulting projects. These projects serve clients who own or operate local small businesses. Supervised by faculty, these projects provide students opportunities to help make lasting improvements in their clients' business operations. This culminates in a final written case report that is delivered to the client. The winners of the competition are announced at the Small Business Institute’s annual conference, which was held virtually in 2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year, there were 17 different universities represented in the student Project of the Year competition. There were tracks for undergraduate and graduate projects. Within those two tracks, teams could submit to Consultation, Comprehensive, Feasibility Study, or Specialized. Each submission was judged by three or more judges.

The UK Honors team’s project, “The New C.E.O. Specialized Case Analysis: Aisley Autumn & the Music Industry,” analyzed the major entrepreneurial issues facing musician and fellow team member, Aisley Stuebs, or “Aisley Autumn” as she is known musically.

Members of the team include:

  • Aisley Stuebs, a sophomore marketing major and vocal performance minor;
  • Madelyn Buckingham, a natural resources and environmental sciences major and a 2020 graduate;
  • Patrick Huckleberry, a senior finance major;
  • Taylor McDaniels, a management major, communication minor and a 2020 graduate; and 
  • Ashley Watkins, a senior writing, rhetoric, and digital studies major and business analytics minor.

According to the Small Business Institute’s Vice President of Research and Publications Jana Minifie, who oversees the Project of the Year competition, the “Specialized” category, in which the UK Honors team placed third, is the most competitive of all the tracks.

“The opportunity to compete on a national level with business experts was a wonderful learning experience for our honors students. We are proud that their project was recognized for its quality with third placement — which was icing on the cake,” said Laura Bryan, Lewis Honors College interim dean.

The team focused on the unique challenges presented in the music industry for aspiring musicians and how Aisley Autumn could create new revenue streams for her business and better her live performance opportunities while staying true to her mission and business strategy. Its research focused on social media marketing strategies and how musicians can monetize their brand.

“Through this research project and with dedicated hard work hereafter, I am growing in confidence that I can build a sustainable career as a singer-songwriter if I continuously strategize, remain adaptive in my marketing strategies, collaborate with team members and fellow creatives, and develop additional revenue streams as my platform grows and as the music industry changes,” said Stuebs, project team member and client. “Above all, I now navigate my work as a singer-songwriter through the lens of an entrepreneur and leader with the goal to positively impact as many lives as I can with the songs I write.”

As many honors courses are interdisciplinary, the team was made up of students with five different majors. As a finance major, Patrick Huckleberry said he originally had some doubt when he learned that his group would be advising a music business. However, Walker quickly assured him that he would bring a valuable skill set to the group.

“Aisley, at that point, had not started to actually look into what her business model looked like or how she planned on making money, so my solution to this was to come up with a functional budget that she could put in realistic projections for known revenue/expense items to come up with different profit/loss projections depending on which revenue/expense items are included in calculating final profit/loss,” Huckleberry said. “She took kindly to this idea, and with tweaks using her input, the final product was a budget/budget template that she could use for the coming years to project her profitability considering multiple different revenue streams/expense items.”

The team has to adapt its approaches to live performance goals as the project was completed during the spring 2020 semester and heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, the team had booked and marketed two live performances for Aisley Autumn. Both were canceled due to COVID-19 shutdowns, but the team quickly pivoted and strategized new ways to remain connected to her audience by posting videos, creating social media challenges and livestreaming performances from her home.

Experiencing the distinctive challenges presented by the music industry and the pandemic, team members learned that they could still be successful if they were malleable and creative with their business plan and goals.

“Through working with Aisley Autumn, I was able to learn the basic in-and-outs of the music industry and how to continually work with any curveballs the world throws my way. In relation to my own future goals, it has taught me how to create dynamic plans to improve my projects in an innovative way,” said Watkins.

Walker’s course was designed to encourage entrepreneurial thinking through an interdisciplinary approach to experiential learning. By navigating real-life business challenges, students learn how to uncover new opportunities in times of uncertainty.

“Words alone cannot adequately express how proud I am of these amazing, talented, resilient students," Walker said. "When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, they readjusted and kept going until their work was complete. They embodied what an entrepreneurial mindset is all about." 

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.