Prior classes have found that it is critically important to talk to the founders of the companies under study.
Here are some guidelines to bear in mind when dealing with the target companies:
1. Remember that you are students engaged in a non-commercial research project; if anyone has any problem with any thing that you are doing, they can take it up with directly with the Project Director. No students have ever encountered any problems on this score, but it's the big picture to fall back upon if, for whatever reason, someone's feathers get ruffled.
2. You can make clear that an extant company has final say over company documents, namely, when the materials are cleared for research access and when they are approved for public access. The company can also choose to remove documents from the archive at any time. The one exception to this rule has been the "executive summary" of company business plans, which we have been making publicly available. Feel free to remind people: the point is to learn for the future, not to jeopardize any going concern today.
3. The company and its employees and other stakeholders are welcome to participate in the interactive learning process. Most companies never have luxury of being the topic of a case study, so this may be their best chance to see a picture of the firm refracted through the student's particular analytic lens (entrepreneurship, growth strategy, new market creation, etc.). If a company gets jazzed about the process, there's a lot more that we can do to support the learning exercise than simply spending a few minutes on the phone with the team or forwarding copies of some internal documents.
4. The one issue that you may have to engage is in response to the question, "How did you get a hold of our business plan?" Your answer to that is "The plan was submitted anonymously to the business plan archive by someone who received it from the company." Under prevailing fair use and privacy law, we are entitled to have access to the documents in the archive. We know where each of the plans came from, and if someone makes a fuss, we are willing to talk about the source and why it's legitimate for us to have it. As above, no one has ever run into any trouble about this, but you can be confident that we will back you up 100% if there are any problems assuming you follow the general rules for using the Archive.
Please let the Project Director know if you have any additional questions or problems in this area.