Students Hone Critical Skills Acting as Research & Development Firm for Yachting Company

Finance major Michael Paladino, left, and management major Juliana Franzese say the hands-on approach to a real-world challenge is preparing them for their careers.

Finance major Michael Paladino, left, and management major Juliana Franzese say the hands-on approach to a real-world challenge is preparing them for their careers.

(April 21, 2020) – At first glance, business students Michael Paladino and Juliana Franzese couldn’t appear more different.

Paladino, a Brooklyn transplant in his mid-30s, traveled around the world as a DJ and music producer for over a decade. After Hurricane Sandy destroyed his music studio, he took advantage of having family in Bradenton to start a new path that eventually brought him to USF St. Petersburg to pursue a. B.S. in Finance.

Juliana Franzese, 19, is a St. Petersburg native who finished high school early and then directly enrolled in USF St. Petersburg to pursue a B.S. in Management. When not in class, she is the customer service representative at New Nautical Coatings, a family owned global company based in Clearwater that sells specialty paint and coating solutions.

These two seniors may be different ages and have wildly varying life experiences, but they both have big ambitions for the future and a passion for business. They were both nominated for being outstanding students within their majors, and this semester they shared a love for applying their passions toward solving a pressing business challenge: attracting a younger market to charter yachts.

The yacht charter industry is facing an unprecedented trend. Its target market, older wealthy retirees are shrinking and traveling less. In order to survive, companies must cultivate a new customer base. But how can companies do this when some do not have the financial or organizational capacity to adapt?

This year Steve Diasio, professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, partnered with Navigare Yachting – an international company with its U.S. headquarters in downtown St. Pete – to provide a real-world business case for students to learn the importance and concept of innovation and strategy. Students were presented with a challenge to create new products and services for the millennial market by researching the industry and creating prototypes and testing out these new products and services.

Students divided into teams to research the existing market, the company, operational best practices and competitors. They then developed actionable solutions based on their research, which they presented to Navigare Yachting.

“The project gives students the opportunity to see how companies evolve their strategies while companies benefit from the students’ solutions,” Diaiso said.

Diasio has partnered with many companies over the past six years including: Valpak, the Dalí Museum, The Moorings, Et. Cultura Festival, the Open Partnership Education Network and Creative Mornings. He said that while big firms may have their own research and development units, smaller firms like Navigare rely on external knowledge and capabilities to accelerate their own internal innovation processes. This reduces costs, time to market and risk.

“Here is an example of how corporate innovation occurs, while providing students with a hands-on experience that is both consultative and innovative in nature.” Diasio said. “There is a misconception on what innovation is. This course helps student create tangible meaning and practice of this concept so students can lead innovation in the future.

Paladino said he has learned more by doing these types of projects than doing any other assignments. “In terms of research, I feel like I can pull things apart and put it together and create a story.”

“Throughout the semester with our team, we learned how to manage time, compile information, tell a story and how to present in a professional setting,” Franzese added.

Navigare Yachting has offices in Sweden, Croatia and in St. Petersburg, Florida and destinations in the British Virgin Islands, Croatia, Greece, Spain, Turkey, Sweden, Thailand, Seychelles and the U.S.A.

During the first part of the semester, the student groups researched the market and the habits of millennials, and presented some initial analysis through a series of presentations: yachting is a growing industry, and chartering appeals to millennials who favor experiences over possessions. The second half of the semester, student teams created new products, services and a broader innovation strategy to create new markets targeting the millennial generation.

“Having USF students from the Strategic Management class as a part of our collaborative business strategy is an advantageous experience for both students and Navigare,” said Maria Badia, the company’s E-Commerce Director. “It opens up an opportunity for fresh perspectives into our business plans to grow our market share with the millennial generation.”

The class culminates with each group turning in a research proposal detailing their findings and recommendations.

“This 100% prepares you for the real world,” Paladino added. He said he hopes to apply what he has learned to a career as a financial analyst for Raymond James or for a sports team after he graduates in the spring.

For her part, Franzese said the assignments reinforced skills of organization and leadership that she hopes to apply in her current job.

“This is giving me skills to grow with my current company. I want to stay there and increase my responsibilities,” Franzese said. “And one day I hope I could be the COO.”