Tulane University senior Matt Oertling has more than muffulettas on his mind these days when he visits Café Freret, a casual eatery near campus. He’s also thinking of how the locally owned business can attract more customers in ways that his classmates might not consider.  
Oertling is on one of four teams of Tulane business students competing with each other to build a new marketing plan for Café Freret as part of their strategic consulting class this semester. Café Freret, meanwhile, is one of the local businesses benefiting from the analysis and research of college students, thanks to a program from the nonprofit Idea Village called IDEAcorps. 
 “It’s great to be able to see your ideas put to the test in the real world, after studying all this in theory for four years,” says Oertling. “I feel like this will give me an edge after graduation.”  
This ongoing project with Tulane is just one way IDEAcorps is mining the intersection of academics and the marketplace, the mutually beneficial sweet spot where college students gain real world experience and entrepreneurs get help with their business goals.
Idea Village created IDEAcorps in 2006 to give students from around the country a direct way to help New Orleans businesses struggling after Hurricane Katrina. Since then, Idea Village has worked with more than 250 students from some of the nation’s highest-ranking schools, who essentially take on the role of professional consultants with the help of their instructors and Idea Village staff. 
“New Orleans can potentially be a hub for experiential learning, where universities want to send their students to get real experience working on the unique opportunities here,” says Idea Village founder Tim Williamson.
This year, teams of students in both Tulane’s undergraduate and MBA programs are working on IDEAcorps projects. Graduate students are helping New Orleans-based contractor South Coast Solar with expansion plans. Now, the Tulane students also have modest funding in hand to help implement the ideas they bring to their business partners. 
Alex Forst, adjunct professor for the strategic consulting class working with Idea Village, says the program gives students the chance to demonstrate their abilities to potential employers and make connections that could lead to opportunities after college.  
“Hopefully, this can help us build a stronger local network for students to get jobs and we can keep more of our talent here,” says Forst. – I.M.