The Consumer Insights and Business Innovation Center provides opportunities for collecting data, interpreting it and conducting research

Students posing behind a laptop and monitor displaying a presentation title slide: "Understanding DU Students' Experiences Through the 4D Lens"When their consulting work for Denver-area businesses slowed down during the COVID-19 pandemic, leaders of the Consumer Insights and Business Information Center (CiBiC) at the Daniels College of Business turned to clients even closer to home: schools and departments within the University of Denver.

“We basically became a mini student-driven agency in the university, helping make more informed decisions at the program level and at the University level,” said Melissa Akaka, a Daniels marketing professor and co-director of CiBiC. “We used online surveys during COVID to continue our work, but then we started getting requests to help with internal marketing and communications and enhancing student experiences..”

Founded in 2017 by Akaka and her colleague Ali Besharat, CiBiC is a multifunctional space that gives DU graduate and undergraduate students firsthand experience with market research and consumer insights. They are trained in collecting and interpreting primary and secondary data and conducting various type of qualitative and quantitative research.

Working in four dimensions

Among the internal projects the center has taken on in recent years is a redesign of the University’s alumni magazine, a grad student-focused revamp of the Daniels website, and a section of the MyDU app dedicated to the 4D Experience—Chancellor Jeremy Haefner’s initiative to help students advance intellectual growth, explore character, pursue careers and lives of purpose, and prioritize their mental and physical well-being.

While the 4D digital experience initially launched with a standalone app, the CiBiC team’s research pointed in a different direction.

“We worked with Laura Perille, executive director of the 4D Experience, who said, ‘We would love to gain insight into the student user experience. We want to ensure that what we develop addresses student needs and interests and best supports their 4D Experience,’” Akaka said. “We started collecting data in 2022, conducting focus groups for undergraduate students and journaling exercises with first-year students. We found that having another app was not the answer to everything. What the students recommended completely shaped the strategy moving forward, pivoting away from a standalone app to a more streamlined, integrated tech experience within an existing platform.”

Added value

Since its inception, CiBiC has offered valuable hands-on experience to undergraduate and graduate students interested in careers in market research. Working on projects for DU has added another layer to that experience, Akaka said.

“It’s fun to work with students who want to do research, because they’re inherently curious,” Akaka said. “They’re seeking out answers to problems they want to solve, or they want to learn the methods of doing consumer research. Doing projects for the University of Denver—especially surrounding the 4D Experience—let them directly impact students. They were really proud of the work they did, and they were happy that they were able to leave this legacy.”

Nick Rohde, an undergraduate marketing student who worked on the 4D Experience project, said it was particularly meaningful to work on an effort that affected current and future DU students.

“As students, it was important to us that we collected accurate data from current students to inform decision making, and CiBiC did a wonderful job of providing us with the resources and framework necessary to provide meaningful insights,” he said. “It was nice to see that the student perspective was not only being heard, but also heavily valued.”

Another CiBiC project is an ongoing redesign of the DU website. CiBiC leaders and students are working with the University’s central marketing and communications team to evaluate the current user experience and find areas for improvement.

“We’re starting off by asking different community members (faculty, staff, students, alumni and prospective students): ‘What kind of value does a university website provide, or should it provide?’” Akaka said. Researchers then give them a task—such as looking for the class schedule—and study how they navigate the site, asking, “What is that experience like for them? What are their pain points? What can we do to improve it?”

Faculty connections

Now that CiBiC has experience working with DU programs, Akaka is looking to support another internal client base: DU faculty members. The center has much to offer faculty members looking to develop their ideas, she said, but many on campus aren’t aware of the resource.

“I would like to bring more awareness to our capacity to help faculty with things like tech transfer—if they are developing intellectual property or technology on campus and they need help understanding the markets for which their technology might be used,” Akaka said. “We can help them figure out which market would make sense for the IP that they’re building, what the landscape looks like, and what the competition is. I would love to create a funnel through CiBiC to support faculty who are getting research grants and building new technologies that we could help them commercialize and take to market.”

It’s a natural extension of the work CiBiC is doing on campus, said Ashley Thomas, manager of intellectual property and technology transfer, and it will provide more opportunities for the students who work in the center.

“By working with CiBiC, not only can DU faculty access essential insights to enhance the competitiveness of their grant proposals, startup business plans and partnerships with industry, but they can also provide Daniels students with applied experience in the process,” Thomas said. “We’ve seen faculty spend considerable dollars or leverage professional relationships to obtain critical market research in support of grant applications. I am hopeful that, in the future, CiBiC will be able to meet this kind of faculty need.” 

“We have awesome students who are doing really cool work that is helping the University make important decisions,” Akaka added. “But in the future, we would like to be able to support faculty specifically. I want to expand our programming so we can impact more students and grow the experience we offer to students on campus.”