Small Business Initiative Places Students with Zone Businesses
The St. Louis Economic Development Partnership and Regional Business Council have partnered with the Olin Business School at Washington University to identify small businesses in the recovery areas of the St. Louis Promise Zone (Ferguson, Dellwood and Jennings) and assist with business development.
Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning (CEL) offers real-world experience for students, while creating positive community and economic changes by assisting small and mid-sized businesses in the St. Louis region. The St. Louis County Port Authority recently awarded a $15,000 grant to CEL to expand this program, offering materials and supplies that will help small businesses in the recovery area succeed.
“We have an immense resource in our students who have passion, raw intelligence and incredibly quickly developing leadership skills, and the question was, ‘What are the best ways to leverage that for the greater good in the community?’” Program Director Daniel Bentle said. “In the end, this initiative is simply focused on supporting our small business leaders in the local economy, which we have a responsibility to do.”
To date, more than 50 students and 13 small businesses have participated in the 10-12 week Small Business Initiative (SBI) program, which has proven to be very successful. Businesses include:
- London’s Wing House
- D’s Place Banquet and Catering
- Hidden Treasures
- Ferguson Burger Bar
- Hollow Woodworks
- Hand and Physical Therapy of Ferguson
- Ferguson Farmers Market
- Drake’s Place
- Always Love and Care, Inc.
- Corners Frameshop Gallery
- Arch Angels Basketball
- BKM Fitness
- Paw Purfect Pet Grooming Salon
Students work to assess a business’ needs, then develop and execute innovative strategies to achieve goals. Projects run the gamut: developing inventory management systems, assisting in financial statement preparation, creating and improving market strategies, and more.
“The SBI gave me the opportunity to use my education to make a real impact on the community we live in,” said Betsy Morgan, a BSBA class of 2019 student who worked with the Drake’s Place consulting team. “I’ve learned more about business, client relationships and teamwork from this project than from anything else I’ve done at WashU, and I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity to work with Drake’s Place.”
Robin Shively, owner of participant business Corners Frameshop Gallery, praised the initiative’s work.
“They first made the effort to understand how my business works and listened to my concerns for its sustainability, growth and profit,” she said. “After working together to prioritize and identify the issues the team could effectively address, each took responsibility according to their individual strengths for certain tasks. The research and legwork was extremely valuable to me as the lone entrepreneur of the establishment.”