Last year Pete Slosberg, founder of Pete's Brewing Co., in Palo Alto, Calif., and the author of Beer for Pete's Sake: The Wicked Adventures of a Brewing Maverick, began brewing up his next big consumer-product idea. Slosberg apparently remains a bootstrapper at heart: for his new project, he didn't hire big-name consultants to do market research. Instead, he tapped M.B.A. students at UCLA's Anderson School. "My partner and I wanted them to do not a full business plan but a market feasibility study from a distribution perspective. I needed to know if retailers would be receptive to the product."

The students' own opinions changed over the four months they gathered information, Slosberg says. "In the beginning, it was, 'This is a great idea.' And when they got into it, it was, 'No, this isn't panning out," he recalls. "And then they were positive again. The deeper they dug, the better it looked." Slosberg paid the school $2,500 for what he figures was "$100,000 worth of research." His theory? "Why pay more if you don't have to?"