5 Best Practices for Launching Student Projects with Industry Partners

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Written by Jordan Levy

Experiential learning and hiring programs are fun and exciting, especially when they go smoothly!


It’s especially crucial that you set the tone from the very beginning that this is a real-world challenge with a real organization and that the student project has real stakes and will result in real outcomes if executed properly.


The students are typically very excited ( and sometimes a bit nervous) about working with real professionals and gaining real experience by working on these real-stakes projects. 


In an effort to help make experiential learning and hiring programs more successful, we’ve assembled this guide to help academic and industry mentors understand best practices when kicking off a project…


1. Review the program structure and project goals so everyone understands what to expect from the experience


Students working on an experiential learning project should be tasked with working on specific, well-defined business challenges for the industry partner. It’s important to ensure that the students are prepared for this experience and that the project expectations match the teaching goals of the course and the capabilities of the students. It is also critical that the faculty mentor touches base with the industry partner a few weeks before the project begins to set the expectations for the engagement.


COMPANIES must understand…

1. What students should ideally gain out of the experience (see “What is Experiential Learning” article for some basic info),
2. The format of the class and the project,
3. The level of commitment in terms of time and resources expected from the company,
4. What areas of the business the students will be focused on,
5. What helpful information Industry Mentors can send over to help get the students up-to-speed, and
6. What the Industry Partner should expect in terms of next steps.


STUDENTS must understand…

1. The project structure and how it’s different than a traditional course,
2. That the stakes are high, they’re representing the school, and they’re working on a real project with a live client,
3. What they’re going to be working on and with whom,
4. Where they can go to learn more about the company and project,
5. The goal and agenda for the first kickoff meeting
6. Who they should go to if they have any questions about the project, company, or next steps.


2. Choose a kickoff meeting date and venue and provide everyone with a detailed schedule of what to expect throughout the term


Industry Mentors are usually expected to participate in various checkpoints with the students and faculty throughout the semester. Before starting the project, it is best to set up a clear schedule with the specific dates for faculty, students, and company staff to meet ( and maybe even send some calendar invites with meeting details, including location and agenda). Some basic items we like to include on all engagement schedules are launch date, special check-in dates (for example, a site visit), and final presentation dates. You may also want to remind industry partners to share relevant information for student on-boarding if you haven’t received what you need by this point.


3. Set the expectations for communication including tone, cadence, channels, and frequency with all parties


Some Academic Mentors prefer to serve as the main liaison between the students and the company, while other Academic Mentors allow students to directly communicate with the Industry Partner. This is often determined by the volume of students engaged, student level, engagement format, industry partner preferences, and project scope.


Before the project begins, it’s important to set the expectations around how often Industry Partners are expected to engage with the students and faculty. These engagements include both formal checkpoints and a cadence for additional contact as needed. It’s also important to decide what mechanisms will be used to communicate, i.e., phone calls, web conferences, emails, Slack, Trello, etc. The students should also be briefed on the communication protocol, which should include tone and etiquette.


4. Review your responsibilities and develop a concrete understanding of the relationship between all stakeholders


CapSource typically uses a Rules of Engagement when connecting students and companies to ensure a mutually beneficial relationship. Industry Partners may also request additional legal paperwork depending on their internal policies and practices. It’s very critical to ensure that all paperwork has been approved, signed, and delivered before commencing any work on the project.

At CapSource, we walk you through every step of the experiential project-based learning process, from connecting your classroom with a company, to launching the project, and facilitating communication through final presentations and beyond.


5. Host a kickoff meeting and set expectations regarding project goals, timeline, next steps, and expected deliverables


The purpose of the kickoff meeting is for students to learn more about the company and project objectives, and for the company to learn more about the students. Students should use this opportunity to learn how to run a real business meeting. A kickoff meeting should be scheduled a few weeks in advance and the agenda should be coordinated with the Industry Partner well in advance of the meeting so they have time to prepare their presentation and for the Q&A.

The Industry Partner should provide an introduction to the team, the business model, and the project so the students can begin developing a better understanding of the engagement. The students should be prepared to ask questions about the business and project in order to better understand expectations. Companies should also have the opportunity to ask any questions about the course or project structure in order to ensure everyone participating is on the same page. Before leaving the room, the company should also know when to expect to hear from the students next and what they should expect to receive at that time.


A sample 1-hour agenda for a kickoff meeting might include…


Personal Introductions – 5 minutes

How did you get here? Discuss your background, credentials, and areas of interest (professionally and non-professionally).


Overview of Company – 15 minutes

Discuss the business model, industry, and product. Offer opportunities for Q&A at the end.


Overview of Team and Organizational Structure – 10 minutes

What does each department do at the company? If relevant, show an org chart.

What departments are involved with the project?

What team members should the student be aware of and/or connected to? If possible, introduce them during the kickoff meeting or at least provide contact information.


Deep Dive on the Student Project – 20 minutes

What are the goals for the engagement? Walk through the project charter, which will define the scope, timeline, milestones, and deliverables.

How does this fit into the broader mission and structure of the company?


Q&A and Next Steps – 10 minutes

What paperwork is required, when is it due? Are there any questions?

When will the next meeting be scheduled?

How should everyone communicate? In what cadence?

When are deliverables due? What information is needed that the students don’t yet have access to?



Want to see an example kickoff meeting?

Check out these examples of recorded kickoff webinars with Industry Partners for some of our Live Case Competition experiences…


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