Colby’s student consulting team has taken on the task of helping a local nonprofit, Maine Huts and Trails.

The project follows last year’s successful consulting project in which students, together with Lisa Noble, director of employer engagement and entrepreneurship and DavisConnects advisor for consulting, conducted extensive market research for Skowhegan-based Gifford’s Famous Ice Cream. 

Next up is a very different sort of business model, one that “was not financially sustainable,” said Wolfe Tone, executive director of Maine Huts and Trails, a nonprofit organization that provides backcountry experiences in the state’s western mountains. “In order to create a new way forward and achieve a financially sustainable and mission-driven organization, we need to know what people care about.” 

To figure that out, Noble and six students collaborated to design a survey that will help Maine Huts and Trails understand not only the current market but also the attitudes and desires of potential customers. The nationwide survey will be taken by about 500 people between the ages of 18 to 65 who have participated in a variety of outdoor activities— from fly-fishing to stargazing to mountain biking to birdwatching—in the last year. In addition to the Colby survey, the organization will also conduct other surveys to better understand their market. 

“If we can provide some business intelligence, and it helps them decide some major investments that they want to make, that’s a place where we can have an immediate impact,” said Noble, stressing the organization’s unique challenge as a nonprofit in the hospitality sector. “When you think about the character of Colby, we care a lot about the outdoors. … There is huge regard and engagement with nature generally, and we want to do something good for our community partners. So if we can deploy our students to have an impact that way, so much the better.” 

Scarborough, Maine, native Mary Farnkoff ’20, a math-science major with a concentration in statistics and an economics minor, is one of the students taking part in the project. “It’s really exciting because the fact that someone like the executive director would take the time to listen to students at a local college is very cool to me,” she said, adding: “And it really makes you feel like what you’re learning, you can actually apply to a real-world situation.” Farnkoff is considering going into consulting after graduation. 

“I want this as much to be a meaningful experience for the students as it is for us, if not more so,” said Tone, noting that last summer’s academic partnership between the organization and the College produced a fantastic body of work. “I really believe in what they [students] can do and how they can help us.” 

To read more about the students’ and Noble’s work to help Gifford’s Famous Ice Cream with their business challenge, visit Colby Magazine.