Case Study

Case study: Using real-world projects to prepare the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Discover how an entrepreneurial marketing professor integrates work-based learning in his classroom, his results, and best practices.
June 20, 2024
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As an Associate Professor of Marketing at Pittsburg State’s Kelce College of Business, Dr. Linden Dalecki continuously seeks innovative ways to engage and educate his students. Like most instructors, he uses textbooks. “They require good memorization and comprehension,” he said. “But they lead students to believe there is only one right answer.”    

To better prepare his students for the real world, Dr. Dalecki has also employed case studies and simulations in his classroom, but they don’t provide the level of complexity and dynamics that he wants his students to experience. So, he decided to incorporate real-world projects, also known as live cases, into his courses. “Real-world projects provide the highest level of complexity and messiness,” he explained. “They introduce students to challenges many haven’t encountered before.”  

But to integrate live cases into his lesson plans, Dr. Dalecki needed to find employers willing to work with his students on specific learning objectives. In particular, he needed to source startups or small businesses with projects applicable to his Entrepreneurial Marketing (EM) classes.


As a first step, Dr. Dalecki spoke with his administrators at Pittsburg State. He learned that the university had a strong network of and preference for local employers. While this was a good start, he soon realized that being able to tap into a larger, pre-existing ecosystem of employers would:

  • Increase the quantity and variety of potential real-world projects;
  • Enhance the diversity of regional and/or international cultural dynamics across the projects; and
  • Allow students to gain proficiency in organizing and conducting virtual team meetings with employers (some who are in other time zones) in today’s increasingly remote-work-enabled business environment.  

To source more real-world projects that met his criteria, Dr. Dalecki turned to Riipen, a work-based learning platform that facilitates experiential learning projects by bridging the gap between educators and employers. 

In 2017, Dr. Dalecki began implementing the program. He input criteria for student projects into the platform, vetted employer project submissions, met with prospective employer representatives, and collaborated with them to co-develop new project parameters that would ensure the experience would be a win-win for employers and students. The program was launched in Spring 2018.


The launch went smoothly and the initial outcomes were so positive that Dr. Dalecki agreed not only to continue the Riipen partnership but to participate in a multi-year research study. From the Spring of 2018 to the Spring of 2023, he matched 106 projects using the platform and documented his findings.  

Over the five-year period Dr. Dalecki noted an increasingly high degree of entrepreneurial marketing relevance in employers and projects on the platform. The percentage of employer representatives at the founder or co-founder level increased from 20% in Spring 2018 to over 94% in Spring 2023. Similarly, 33% of employers sourced and selected in 2018 were in startup mode compared to 100% of firms in 2023.

In addition, Dr. Dalecki found that the employers in Riipen’s network had realistic expectations about working with college students and their obligations as mentors. Colleagues from other universities who used live cases in their classrooms had cautioned him about unprofessional employer behavior, but Dr. Dalecki did not encounter it with Riipen.

 “I found a very high level of enthusiasm and engagement from the companies,” he shared. “The representatives tend to be very energized and eager to work with students.”

In terms of skill development, Dr. Dalecki’s experience with Riipen’s real-world projects confirmed the findings of Cummins and Johnson (2023) . Their research found the “… percentage of course time dedicated to the live case project (0% to 100%) will increase perceptions of student skill development in (a) teamwork, (b) conflict handling, (c) time management, (d) presentation, (e) communication, and (f) critical thinking.” 

Dr. Dalecki explained, “Soft skills are the hardest to teach and they are the hardest to acquire. I tracked a huge improvement in soft skills. At the beginning of the semester, students had an anxiety about presenting but by the end, they were at a pre-professional level and even their emails were more confident and skilled.”

Even though the research study is complete, Dr. Dalecki continues to integrate real-world projects sourced through Riipen in his classes. Over the years he has improved his project selection and management processes, and has invaluable advice for instructors looking to integrate live cases into their classrooms, notably:   

  • Begin the matching process early. Start your selection process at least two months before classes start to ensure the logistical details are worked out. 
  • Screen employers carefully. Research organizations you are considering working with to ensure they are legitimate. Beware of employers who use Hotmail or Gmail email addresses instead of an organizational email address.  
  • Set employer expectations. Confirm employers understand that this is a learning experience for students, they will need to spend time meeting with and mentoring student teams, a one-size-fits-all/templatized/checklist approach to projects will not work, what the project milestones are. 
  • Be prepared for employers who:
    • Prefer to work only with local students which may be an issue if your school is online;
    • Work in a “gray area” depending on your institution’s jurisdiction, policies, and culture, like a cannabis startup;
    • Require students or universities to sign an NDA or non-compete agreement.  
  • Ask employers to present their personal journeys, business objectives, and projects to the class. This improves student engagement by allowing students to make better-informed decisions about which projects to work on. As an example, while an employer was presenting a talent acquisition project, she mentioned a side marketing project she was working on to promote her grandmother’s Greek pie recipe. Students became very excited about this side or “dark horse” project, and it really engaged them during the course and in subsequent courses.
  • Check in frequently with students. Since many students have not yet worked in a professional environment, scheduled status meetings will ensure the project is progressing smoothly and that communications are professional. 
  • Start small to allow for a learning curve. Instructors should consider limiting the number of projects per course to 2-3 to start. Also, if you assign the same project to multiple teams, have the teams work independently and track the differences. It may be tempting to allow an employer to run multiple projects simultaneously but limit the number of projects to three to ensure the best experience for employers and students.
  • Plan for “ghost clients.” In the rare event that an employer does not respond in a timely fashion or simply disappears, you can assign students to another project or identify another firm in the same industry that would be willing to give feedback on students' deliverables.
  • Consider partnering with third parties to expand your network. If your institution does not have a preexisting and diverse network of employers or the resources to vet organizations, a partner can help. For example, Riipen has relationships with 35,000+ employers, including international organizations, not-for-profits, and small businesses, and prescreens them before adding them to the platform. 

When asked about Riipen by colleagues, Dr. Dalecki highly recommends it. “Riipen has a very intuitive user interface, good search functionality, and a very wide variety of employer projects in the pool that are highly relevant,” he said. “I find huge value in the set of project possibilities and the support available from the Riipen team. .”

Book a chat with our team to discover how Riipen can help you integrate real-world projects into your classrooms. 


1. Cummins, S. and Johnson, J.S. (2023), “The impact of live cases on student skill development in marketing courses”, Journal of Marketing Education, Vol. 45 No. 1, pp. 55-69.

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