Bliss Manufacturing in Pawtucket has been handcrafting inspirational and religious medals, jewelry and other items for more than 100 years.
Now, thanks in part to a partnership with the Bryant University International Business program, those items are for sale in 50 other countries around the world.
Over the past two years, Bliss has tasked groups of Bryant students completing the International Business senior practicum with helping to lay the groundwork for moves into export markets. Each time, the three-student teams researched, gathered and synthesized information that helped open doors to potentially valuable overseas markets, starting with Italy.
“The information they retrieved was very helpful to us in going into the market in Italy,” said CEO Frank Bliss. A second group of students helped prepare a business plan for a move into Mexico and other Latin American countries. “The work they did definitely helped us advance our overseas presence.”
The 6-year-old practicum program was developed by International Business program director Madan Annavarjula as a capstone project required for all graduating seniors.
Gerald Cohen, an international trade specialist at the John H. Chafee Center for International Business at Bryant, said from modest roots of just six companies in 2009, the program has quickly grown in popularity. This past spring semester, more than 20 businesses took part.
In the practicum, teams of three students each are assigned to work with businesses on specific international projects, with oversight from Bryant faculty and staff from the Chafee center. At the end of the semester, they present a written and oral report to both the client and a panel of judges offering specific suggestions for how to enter new markets overseas.
“I like to say it is a win-win-win,” Cohen said. “It’s a win for the student, the client and the university.”
The Rhode Island economy may well be a long-term winner as well. Several companies, such as Bliss, can point to new business opportunities and newly opened international doors as a result of their participation.