A simple question — “Where can we eat?” — led to an award-winning pairing between the UNCG Bryan School of Business and Economics and Raffaldini Vineyards and Winery.

Bryan School MBA students won the 2014 Small Business Institute’s Project of the Year award for their comprehensive business plan for a restaurant at the Wilkes County winery. A feasibility business plan by Bryan School undergraduates for Little Acorn Books, a local publisher of children’s books, won second place in the Small Business Institute’s undergraduate feasibility business plan category. Both of UNCG’s entries placed out of about 500 entries in the national competition. UNCG is the only Triad school with a Small Business Institute program.

“Most business schools are very good at teaching students about the theory of business through articles and books and its application through case studies, but the Bryan School stands out because, in addition, we teach the practice of business – how it really works,” said Bryan School Dean McRae C. Banks. “Our required projects program for both undergraduate and MBA students is the cornerstone of our effort.  The SBI awards for these projects, which are typical of what our students do, is one more external validation of what we are doing for our students, while we are also having significant impact on the business community.”

Raffaldini Vineyards and Winery, near the Blue Ridge Mountains, grows central and southern Italian varietals in the loamy soil of the Swan Creek AVA. It’s a destination for customers seeking authentic Italian wines. But once the tours and tastings were done, visitors found the dining options in Ronda — population 417 — limited.

“Our regular food options consist of freshly-made deli items, meats and cheeses. Based on our experience with that and what folks were telling us and asking us, they prepared a feasibility study to develop an Italian-style restaurant business plan,” said Thomas Salley, who handles media relations for the winery.

MBA students Gordon Trimble, Scott Jordan and Taylor Pittman worked on the business and marketing plan with Bryan School faculty members Richard Browne, Bonnie Canziani and Sam Troy.

“It’s real-world experience,” Troy said. The students “weren’t working on something that was pie in the sky. They were working on something that will come to reality. They provided input to this company that was really meaningful.”

“Raffaldini Vineyards will be using the plan to attract potential investors and restaurateurs to the area,” Salley said. “The plan offers confidence to potential investors,” he added.

“Anyone reviewing the business plan would see how thorough and well thought out it is, as verified by the Small Business Institute.”

The partnership with Raffaldini is the latest in a long line of works and research Bryan School faculty have undertaken with wineries and North Carolina’s wine industry. Seven years ago, faculty in the Bryan School identified North Carolina’s nascent wine industry as a potential economic engine for the state. With more than half of the state’s wineries located within a 120-mile radius of Greensboro, the burgeoning wine industry is one that UNCG is uniquely positioned to help grow.

Little Acorn Books is the labor of love for UNCG student Marilynn Barr, who began the publishing press years ago while looking for educational materials for her son. Hoping to take her business to the next level, Barr and classmates Brandi Johnson, Bob McDaniel, Chantha Nie and Eric Sorber completed a feasibility study to gauge growth opportunities. Professor Dianne Welsh, who also serves as Director of the Small Business Institute for UNCG, oversaw the project.

“It helped to organize the information and helped me zero in on where I needed to work,” Barr said. “I learned that I was on the right track.”

Since UNCG’s SBI program began in 2009, the university has placed first, second or third nationally seven times and had one honorable mention.

Photo courtesy of Monty and Brenda Combs