Alex Mann and his son Aaron have been building inventory for an online sales launch of beer soap bars for months.

The Medford accountant, however, didn't want to blindly step into the abyss. First, he wanted to know price points and other factors that would lead to computer "buy" clicks.

Mann was among respondents to an advertisement earlier this year by the Southern Oregon University School of Business seeking clients to collaborate with MBA students. Within a few reasonable limitations, the respondents chosen had a research team at their disposal for free. Along with other potential clients, Mann made a pitch for his project and the MBA cohort chose his as one of three to pursue this fall, along with requests from the Oregon Employment Department and a wood products firm. The graduate students will share their findings with their clients Saturday morning at the Higher Education Center in downtown Medford.

"I didn't want to finish designing my website and packaging until I received the results of the market survey the class did," Mann said.

The team assigned to Mann was tasked with creating a survey and evaluating responses primarily generated from about 500 Facebook connections.

"It was interesting to me because it was a new product," said Bryan Pistole, an MBA candidate who did his undergraduate work at Azusa Pacific in Southern California. "My perspective was that it would be interesting to see the marketing process from the beginning. What influences people to buy, what changes their opinion during the buying process. It was a typical entrepreneurial model of a guy working out in his backyard."

Pistole said his team was concerned the 81 survey responses might not be enough, but were assured by their advisers they had enough material.

"We got a pretty good distribution across the demographics we were looking for — income and age," Pistole said. "We had a pretty good idea of things consumers were looking for. Because it was a specialty product, there wasn't a lot of awareness."

It's one thing to put surveys online, it's another to email them to human resource departments. Rosetta Shaw's group tackled a project for the Oregon Employment Department. Specifically, looking at employee benefits by Jackson County's arts, entertainment and recreation companies.

"In this region there is a really high density of businesses that fall within that industry grouping," Shaw said. "Higher than the state average, higher than the national average, and higher even than Los Angeles County, which was very interesting."

The researchers began with a list of 213 businesses, but after weeding out closed companies and those declining to participate, they sent out 70 surveys.

"We didn't exclude self-employed people, we just listed them under 'No employees,' " said Shaw, who did her undergraduate work at SOU. "We originally hoped to get a large sample size of companies that offered employee benefits. After we looked at them, we realized the majority of people we surveyed don't hire full-time employees; they hire subcontractors, part-time employees or themselves. Singers, painters and those kind of people are listed as a business, but without actually hiring any employees. In the end, one of our conclusions was the survey we designed wasn't the best we could have designed for this group of people."

One suggestion the group encountered was to find ways to extend the seasonal base for the arts and entertainment community, allowing for year-round work.

Steven Dickson's group dealt with the inner workings of a wood products company, trying to better understand its foundational cultural dynamics.

"We asked questions specific to the organization and its culture," said Dickson, a University of Utah graduate. "Employee-to-employee, employee-to-management, management-to-management, executive-to-executive, executive-to-employee, looking at the organization in its entirety and asking the simple question: Is there buy-in or not buy-in?"

The survey wasn't mandatory, but of the 1,000 surveys sent out, more than 30 percent drew a response.

"The challenge was the distance between all the locations in-state and out of state we had to survey," Dickson said. "Not only compile the information but to write a stellar report in two months that the organization could use in its future decision-making process."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.