Karli Barich (from left), Tavis Scholz, Annie Carter, and Craig Windish with a prototype of BedWedge.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work for Executive MBA Capstone Experience

By Mia Gleason

Take four ambitious Executive MBA students at Washington State University.

Add a capstone project that requires them to channel what they learned during their MBA studies into a single business idea. What do you end up with?

For Karli Barich, Tavis Scholz, Annie Carter, and Craig Windish, it was BedWedge, a self-inflating device that provides personal space for sleepers.

“We wanted to offer sleepers a solution to common problems while sharing a bed,” says Barich (’20 EMBA). “BedWedge can separate siblings, prevent physical contact in awkward sleeping situations, and allow those with restless legs to share a bed without disturbing others.”

Although BedWedge is a hypothetical product, the capstone project required a detailed business plan. Students had to demonstrate their knowledge of finance, sales and marketing, operations, and innovation management. The project also tested their ability to work as a team.

In capstone classes, students complete a challenging project that combines their talents and interests with the skills and knowledge from their coursework, says Cheryl Oliver, Carson College associate dean of professional programs.

“Many graduates say their capstone coursework was the most rewarding aspect of their MBA degree,” Oliver says. “Students get to see their business ideas put into action, and they form lasting relationships with their capstone teammates as they apply their strengths and knowledge to create a business plan.”

Currently, the Executive MBA program closes with two capstone courses that prepare students to create a full business plan. The capstone project is so critical to student development that a faculty committee recently reviewed the content, ushering in new elements for fall 2021.

Agreeing on the BedWedge

The team tried and rejected other ideas before settling on BedWedge, a suggestion from Windish’s wife.

The Windishes know a couple who talked about the troubles they went through to ensure one partner did not bother the other’s sleep.

“We have a friend who jokes about how his wife builds a pillow wall on the bed, so he doesn’t roll into her or disturb her sleep,” Windish says. “So, we built a system that creates a barrier with a fitted sheet to prevent any wandering sleep disturbance scenarios.”

Windish and his wife brainstormed ways to make the idea marketable to a larger audience. They determined the concept applied to travel situations where two kids were forced to share a hotel bed.

“Our product prevents unnecessary territory battles of moving the pillow wall to one side to claim more space,” Windish says.

Feeling excited about an idea each of them could relate to, the team immediately got to work.

“We identified many potential markets for this product, but ultimately focused on traveling parents with children ages five to 11 years old that often shared a bed while on the road,” Barich says.

“Since ours was a manufactured product, we relied heavily on what we learned in our International Business Management class,” Carter (’20 EMBA) adds.

Team members felt strongly about corporate social responsibility. As they modeled working with overseas suppliers, they relied on concepts from business ethics classes.

Building trust as the “dream team”

Each team member was assigned a role in the project based on individual strengths and area expertise. The “dream team” included an engineering manager, a business manager, a strategy director, and a vice president of sales.

“Craig brought the engineering skills, Karli a data-driven and financial approach, Annie a project management and science background, and I filled the sales and marketing needs for our group,” Scholz says (’20 EMBA). “Our team benefitted from our different perspectives, which made the project that much more enjoyable and contributed to its success.”

Scholz appreciated the camaraderie that developed among the team.

“As high achievers in leadership roles, we are used to being guarded,” Scholz says. “Being open with your team and being your authentic self makes for a richer, more rewarding learning experience.”

He also encourages MBA students to “take a chance on your most hair-brained ideas. Far-fetched as they may seem, your craziest ideas might just be your best.”

“It’s not every day that you get a group of serious, hardworking, smart professionals together. It was fun to get to know people with various experiences and strengths,” Carter says. “We just had a great time working together and creating a fun business idea and letting that shine through.”

The BedWedge team finished their project with flying colors. Besides earning top grades in the capstone courses, they also got high marks for the originality of their project idea and sophistication of their business plan.

“We found that teamwork truly makes the dream work,” Barich says.

Learn more about the Carson College of Business Executive MBA program