Doing business online isn’t new. But for many rural businesses, building a website or developing a social media presence simply hasn’t been necessary – until the era of COVID-19.
The pandemic also changed life for University of Virginia students, who lost summer internships they had hoped would propel them to a great start in their careers.
On Monday, the Central Virginia Small Business Development Center and the University of Virginia launched a program that will use these two problems to create solutions.
The Propel Management Consulting Program is a collaboration between the CVSBDC and the UVA Career Center. Students in the program will use their skills to help businesses transition online in response to the pandemic. The projects will target businesses in Fluvanna, Louisa, Orange and Greene counties.
“I joined Propel because I am interested in learning how to apply my research and quantitative analysis skills to solve a problem with tangible impact on our community.”
- Rachel Alexander
a UVA third-year statistics student
Alexander said providing a potential solution to Louisa County seems tricky, because we have to figure out how to help businesses, like those doing ecotourism in Lake Anna, transition to an e-commerce platform.
“I would like to study the intersection of data science and public policy, and Propel offers a unique opportunity for me to explore both areas of interest. I’m also looking forward to the mentor aspect of this program and hope to develop a lasting connection with my mentor.”
Rebecca Haydock, the new director of CVSBDC, said the interns will be a big boost to her growing team as they adjust to rising demand.
“My first week on the job in April, work hours doubled for our business counselors in response to the COVID crisis,” she said. “I started seeking online business technical experts to help answer the shift in needs of business owners.”
Haydock also reached out to the City of Charlottesville and the six counties the CVSBDC supports to better understand needs at the local level. Those calls led her to UVA and David Lapinski, director of employer relations and experiential learning at UVA’s Career Center.
“I had reached out to the community to find meaningful projects for students who lost their summer internships, and Rebecca Haydock answered the request,” Lapinski said. “She’s focused on finding support for Central Virginia’s rural counties, where some businesses are struggling to move from front-door operations to online customer engagement.”
According to Bryan Rothamel, Fluvanna’s economic development coordinator, Propel provides help the rural localities may not otherwise be able to handle alone.
“Fluvanna is grateful for the opportunity with CVSBDC and UVA to participate in this project,” he said. “This will quickly offer much-needed solutions. What Rebecca and David put together will have a direct impact on closing the divide for our rural businesses.”
Organizers hope the project will be the first of many collaborations between the University and the local business support group.
“Through the Propel program, we can harness the creative power of our students while contributing to the Central Virginia economy.”
- Denise Herndon
UVA’s program director for economic development
Herndon said the University encourages collaborative partnerships with local organizations such as the CVSBDC, and we hope to see many more such initiatives in the future.
“The CVSBDC connects small businesses to high-quality local resources at no charge every day,” Haydock said. “Building a framework for UVA students to support small businesses is a significant win-win. Businesses can really use that technical knowledge, while students gain the experience of real-world applications.”
Photo at top published under Creative Commons.