Daniels’ Consumer Insights and Business Innovation Center trains and empowers students in the growing realm of market research

Headshot of Sam Laird

Sam Laird

When Denver MBA student Sam Laird began conducting user testing on the educational app she was developing, she didn’t have to look far for the resources she needed. She just had to head to the first level of the Daniels College of Business building, home to the Consumer Insights and Business Innovation Center (CiBiC), where she was able to bring in University of Denver students to road test Game-Phi, her web-based app for studying organic chemistry.

“CiBiC’s resources provide you the tools to user test more efficiently,” Laird said. “I’ve been using doing user tests for 10 months, and I thought I was doing the right thing. But, their institutional knowledge helped me craft impactive testing.”

Created in 2016 by Daniels Department of Marketing associate professors Ali Besharat and Melissa Akaka, CiBiC is a multifunctional space that gives graduate and undergraduate students firsthand experience with market research and consumer insights, training them in collecting and interpreting primary and secondary data and conducting various type of qualitative and quantitative research.

For some, CiBiC is a resume-builder and a chance to work with real-world companies. For others, like Laird, it’s a laboratory to polish their own entrepreneurial endeavors.

“CiBiC gave me more refined tools to conduct useful user testing—a clear roadmap of what should the user test should teach me about the digital experience,” Laird said. “Most of all, it’s the space. I have noticed a drastic change in my interviews now that I’m bringing students into this dedicated user testing room. I thought it was going to make them uncomfortable, but the exact opposite happened. They were more focused on being an actual user. It enhanced the participants’ focus that I didn’t have at over zoom or at a coffee shop.”

Real-world research

In addition to entrepreneurial students who use CiBiC to test their own products, the center also provides valuable hands-on experience for students who want careers in consumer insights and market research. One of the primary reasons Akaka and Besharat started CiBiC, Akaka said, is that internships in market research are few and far between.

Sam Laird sits with two people while conducting user tests

Sam Laird conducts testing in CiBiC’s lab

“CiBiC provides a bridge between getting an internship in consumer insights or marketing research and the classroom,” Akaka said. “[Besharat] and I provide quality control for all the projects and we’re with the students step by step as they design the instrument. They’re learning by doing.”

Especially valuable to students looking for real-world experience is the opportunity to conduct research for outside companies that contract with CiBiC for their consumer insights work. The center employs graduate assistants and undergraduate interns to do projects for companies such as Datamine, a Denver-based mining company, and Kong, a manufacturer of dog toys based in nearby Golden.

“The more experience that students can get prior to graduation, prior to going out and trying to compete in the real world, the better,” said Bob Kumagai, executive director of Daniels Career Services. “Professors Besharat and Akaka really have built an interesting playground where students get to work with real-life companies, solving for specific sorts of problem, or they can generate research that helps substantiate their curiosity, which is great as well.”

Kumagai also said CiBiC is especially relevant now because of the growing importance of consumer insights in a company’s marketing efforts. What used to be considered cut-and-dry market research, he said, is now an essential part of refining and rolling out new products.

“Consumer insights is really core to almost all of a company’s activities,” Kumagai said. “There’s this really huge demand and need for people who can take that data and generate some insights out of it, whether those are quantitative or qualitative.”

Enabling agility

CiBiC has two laboratory spaces it uses to collect data: a behavioral lab equipped with a one-way mirror where companies can conduct focus groups and a tech-enabled “digital experience lab” where clients—or students like Laird—can watch as users interact with their technology and collect data they can use to improve their products.

“In the past, it was just me observing them,” Laird said. “Now I have video content that has been really helpful to show other stakeholders, software engineers, and user design people. It’s helped us solve a lot of our problems.”

Headshot of Melissa Akaka

Associate Professor Melissa Akaka

Akaka, who advises Laird on her user testing, said Laird’s app Game-Phi is the perfect example of CiBiC’s value to students on the entrepreneurial track. Not only does Laird have a captive audience of DU chemistry students on which to test the app, she has access to technology and expertise that might be costly elsewhere.

“Her research question is, ‘What can I build into this platform so that I have more user stickiness—so that people will use it more frequently and spend more time on this app?’” Akaka said. “The digital lab allows her to really understand the experience of how they interact with this digital platform, then she will be able to say, ‘OK, here are some of the elements of this app that people like and here are some that they don’t like.’”

Using that data, Laird has been able to quickly spin up new iterations of the app for further testing, refining as she goes. She says CiBiC has been a great resource for every step along the way.

“I’m a huge fan of design thinking, user testing, and prototype reiteration,” Laird said. “The center has been incredible with the help they’ve given me. It’s that knowledge resource to be more efficient in user testing, the technological resources they provide to conduct successful user tests and then just the space, which adds that legitimacy factor.”