MTU Students Serve Small UP Businesses During Crisis

Michigan Tech relies on small businesses and small businesses rely on Michigan Tech. Here’s how

Michigan Tech relies on small businesses and small businesses rely on Michigan Tech.
Here’s how we’re working together to help weather a different kind of storm.

Small businesses in Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula are accustomed to handling adversity
— but it usually comes in the form of lake-effect snow. The COVID-19 pandemic presents
both unprecedented challenges and opportunities to the locally owned establishments
and enterprises that are a vital part of the community. At the Upper Peninsula regional
Michigan Small Business Development Center (SBDC) office, located within the Michigan Technological University College of Business, demand has more than doubled.

“We are the boots on the ground,” said Daniel Yoder, regional senior business consultant.

Due to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the regional consultant team
is working with more than 50 businesses each day. To help serve UP businesses, the
SBDC hired Michigan Tech business students as interns, and looks to hire more.

Business Students Help and Learn

Anna Nault, a second-year management major in the College of Business (COB), is serving
as the SBDC intake administrator for the entire UP. She’s the first point of contact
for incoming clients and single-handedly triages, fields and tracks inquiries before
assigning them to the appropriate consultant.

“We entrust Anna to use her judgment to route inquiries appropriately and to maintain
confidentiality — that’s a huge aspect of her responsibilities. In addition, she developed
a tracking system, so we can be sure no one falls through the cracks during the process,”
Yoder said.

While Anna’s assisting entrepreneurs, she’s also receiving help. “I’m learning about
what it takes to be a part of a team of professionals and familiarizing myself with
business in the real world,” she said. “I know this experience will benefit any career
I choose, or help me out one day if I start my own business.”

Another MTU business student, second-year marketing major Ryan Stafford, is also learning
valuable skills while working as SBDC’s social media coordinator, curating timely
content while monitoring the Upper Peninsula’s regional Facebook page @MISBDCUpperPeninsula. During the current crisis, social media has become an even more critical component
for businesses to relay information to customers and clients.

“We observed that one business posted about the stay-at-home closure in a more negative
way, while a competing business conveyed it more positively, stating, ‘We look forward
to serving customers in a new way,’” Yoder said.

A Place Small Businesses Can Go for Help

There is a lot of information circulating about grants and loans, but it’s difficult
for people to know where to turn and what is legitimate.

“Not all programs apply to every business. After a one-on-one session with an SBDC
consultant, small business owners have a clearer understanding where to focus their
efforts,” said Yoder. A typical remote session can involve screen sharing to walk
a small-business owner through an application process step-by-step. “Although we cannot
do it for people, we teach them how,” Yoder added.

In addition to one-on-one consulting sessions, the SBDC offers free webinars and online
training. The recent “UP COVID-19” webinar drew nearly 50 attendees, and new webinars
and classes are produced almost daily.

Yoder encouraged small businesses at any stage to connect to SBDC resources.

“There are still people wanting to launch new businesses. There are people using this
time to plan,” Yoder said. “The entire economy came to a screeching halt in a matter
of days. There’s a lot of uncertainty. We don’t have all of the answers — no one does.
But one thing is for sure: flexibility and optimism will go far.”

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than
7,000 students from 54 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than
120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering,
forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and
social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway
and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.