Sculpting Data at FIU Business: students learn to parse a real company’s torrent of information.

Sculpting Data at FIU Business: students learn to parse a real company’s torrent of information.


Many businesses sell on Amazon. And SellersFunding, which provides loans and capital to small businesses, wanted to find the stars among the small-marketplace online merchants, and identify which might be good investment opportunities.

They turned to the students in Assistant Professor Tala Mirzaei’s Business Analytics Applications class to find out.

Fabio D. Knijnik
Fabio D. Knijnik

It was a unique opportunity for the FIU College of Business graduate students to work on a real-world problem with help from the ATOM Think Tank, FIU’s first faculty consulting service. ATOM, which stands for Analytics, Technology and Operations Management, resides in the College of Business’ Information Systems and Business Analytics (ISBA) Department.

At the project’s end, students delivered a live presentation with a predictive model the company could use in decision making, giving class members the opportunity to not only work on a real project, but present it to the company’s cofounder.

“It was amazing,” said SellersFunding co-founder Fabio David Knijnik. I really enjoyed participating, interacting with the students and sharing our passion for the subject.”

Said Mirzaei, “This is a good exercise. Students learn to deal with  the challenges when faced with real data, and then, they learn to come up with appropriate methodologies to solve the problems and answer the business questions.”

Fabio David Knijnik
Fabio David Knijnik

Learning to swim in data.

It’s no secret that the Internet age is all about amassing vast realms of data. But how to use it demands 21st century creativity. Analytics majors have to learn what information is germane and what isn’t.

In this case, Mirzaei’s class had access to Amazon records and other data, and “they had to mine the data, and develop predictive models using different techniques that we learned in class,” she said. And while she and other ATOM faculty members combed out some of the data that would not be relevant, students were still presented with more than 5,000 records of Amazon sellers. They had to figure out which questions to ask about the remaining data; for example, how many items were sold by one seller, and the costs of sold items across the months.

Tala Mirzaei
Tala Mirzaei

“The first thing, we needed to do was define what it means to be a good performer,” explained Joshua Lugo, who is working on his master’s degree in data science. Was that someone who sold one $10,000 item in one month, or someone who sold thousands of $10 items over three months – or both?

Two rounds of analysis, and fine tuning the procedure they used “really put to the test some of the things we’ve learned,” he said. “It was really good practice.”

Spoorthi Rajendrababu worked on a project that required business analytics application, noting that the students had to evaluate more than 15 variables and come up with credit-worthy parameters, while pulling out what is, essentially, noise.

“It was really a great opportunity,” Rajendrababu said. “When we knew we were getting real time data, it was mind blowing.”

At project’s end, the results were presented to the company, marking the first time Mirzaei, who has been teaching the course since August, 2016, was able to bring live, real-world data into the class.

“The experience was really good for me and the students because we had to meet the expectations of the company,” she said. “It was challenging and exciting.”

Knijnik had similar feelings about the project.

“It was a pleasure working with the faculty and the students,” he said. “Tala Mirzaei and (ISBA Senior Instructor and ATOM director) Nicole Wishart are amazing professionals and helped define and implement the project with a very straightforward approach. I am looking forward to having a chance to do that again.”

And rather than merely serve as an academic exercise, for SellersFunding, the class provided real-world solutions, Knijnik said.

“Right after the competition, we started to implement some of the ideas, models and insights I got during the presentations,” he said. “SellersFunding is an innovative platform with a forward looking approach, and the students got the spirit right away.”

ATOM, which launched in mid-2015, is focused toward helping small businesses learn how to integrate state-of-the-art technology and analytics into their organizations. The non-profit is supported through its own work and has provided services to a number of companies, including those in the health and tourism industries.

Disclaimer:  SellersFunding takes its customers’ privacy and data protection very seriously. All data shared and or utilized in this project was generic in nature. No specific or identifiable information linked to SellersFunding’s customers has been revealed at any time.

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