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33 BizEd November/ December 2014 Throughout its evolution, X-Culture has kept to its startup roots, supported by only a handful of small grants of a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. The money comes from UNCG, other participating schools, and educa- tional nonprofits. Taras thinks a lack of funding actually might be a blessing in disguise, because it ensures that the people involved are truly committed to the project. "We believe in what we do, not because we have the cash to spend, but because we feel that it's impor- tant," says Taras. "If I had more money, it wouldn't be the same. It would feel more like a job." Real-World Challenges For the first X-Culture projects, stu- dent teams wrote business plans for a hypothetical company. But word got out, and by 2012 Taras began getting calls from companies asking if students could analyze their own I n early 2010, as Vasyl Taras searched for a new interna- tional business textbook for his course, he noticed that all 17 textbooks he evaluated covered the same concepts and followed the same chapter order. Only the exercises, examples, and statistics differed. "That's when it occurred to me," says Taras, a professor of business administration. "If all faculty teaching international busi- ness use more or less the same textbook, maybe I could find pro- fessors in different countries who would team their students up with mine on a real-world virtual team consulting project." Taras posted a message on the listserv of the Academy of Interna- tional Business (AIB) to ask if any other professors were interested in the idea. Within the hour, he says, he had received dozens of messages that said, "Yes, let's do it." That was the origin of "X-Cul- ture," a ten-week project that teams students from universities worldwide to consult on interna- tional business projects for com- panies. In its first offering in 2010, X-Culture brought together 500 students from seven countries on team projects. Since then, X-Cul- ture has grown to include nearly 100 professors at 90 institutions in 44 countries, and it enrolls nearly 3,000 students who represent 100 nationalities of origin. Grassroots Innovation international business challenges. Today, student teams can choose to work on one of the 12 projects faculty have selected from those that companies submit. Or, they can select projects from different com- panies altogether, as long as at least one team member has a contact at the company and all team members agree to the choice. Of 500 student teams, about 100 choose their own projects. Last spring, for example, X-Culture teams worked on proj- ects from a video arcade game company in India that wanted to expand into Europe and North America, a children's clothing com- pany in Spain that was looking for franchising opportunities in other countries, and a consulting com- pany and a peer-to-peer evaluation systems company in the United States that both aimed to expand beyond North America. At the end of the ten weeks, faculty choose the most promising team projects based on criteria such as the novelty and economic feasi- bility of their ideas. About 100 stu- dents on the best teams are invited on a ten-day trip to an international city. While there, they visit a com- pany whose project many have worked on and have face-to-face meetings with executives. Not all students who are invited can attend, either because they cannot obtain visas or they cannot afford the trip. The AIB provides stipends to help defray travel expenses. One year, students traveled to Atlanta, Georgia, to visit Home Depot's headquarters and pre- sent their ideas for improving the company's website to the CEO and CFO of its online division. The executives chose a team that X-CULTURE Vasyl Taras Bryan School of Business and Economics University of North Carolina at Greensboro Vasyl Taras at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Istanbul, Turkey.

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