While the College of William & Mary has closed its campus and taken learning online, two students are still finding a way to assist businesses struggling from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
Vicki Harrington and Cara Simpson, both first-year MBA students, are helping Willliamsburg-area small businesses navigate the effects of the outbreak by connecting them to crisis services for free. Since beginning their efforts in the last week of March, the two have heard from dozens of companies across Hampton Roads.
“It’s been pretty eye-opening to see how much demand there is,” Harrington said.
“We’re really seeing how devastating this situation is,” Simpson said.
As they began to help businesses, Simpson said, the biggest need was help navigating the process of applying for $350 billion in Small Business Association loans — a program which has since run out of money after receiving 1.6 million applications. When a small business owner asked them about the program, Harrington was able to point businesses to local banks that were offering the loans.
Additionally, they were able to help with marketing — helping businesses find ways to promote selling their products on a fast turnaround.
When the students weren’t able to answer questions directly, Simpson said, they were able to connect business owners to their wide network of experts, like folks with the Virginia Employment Commission.
“The biggest thing that we’ve been focusing on is getting those resources to people,” Harrington added.
Both of the students have come to the William & Mary program from other careers. Harrington worked in digital advertising in Washington, D.C., for four and a half years. She came to the program because she wanted to focus on how businesses could operate sustainably. Before going to Williamsburg, Simpson was halfway around the world, helping fishers in the Philippines with the Peace Corps. While there, she saw a huge need for helping develop small businesses so that the people there could earn a livelihood.
The students were planning a campus event on sustainability practices when the coronavirus outbreak began to impact Hampton Roads in March. After the event was canceled, the pair wanted to find a way to leverage their contacts in the business community. They met with local economic development officials and the Greater Williamsburg Partnership, who helped spread the message about their work.
Going forward, Simpson and Harrington want to move beyond simply connecting business owners with the right people and resources. They want to give business leaders access to William & Mary faculty and eventually work with businesses one-on-one — diving into their issues and offering more comprehensive assistance. They’ve also recruited a team of 30 other students to begin scaling up the operation.
The pair plan to continue to offer help on a rolling first-come, first-served basis. They encourage business owners to reach out by emailing them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Trevor Metcalfe, 757-222-5345, email@example.com