Through the Institute for Business and Information Technology, students create digital services and e-commerce for Merchants Fund clients affected by COVID-19
PHILADELPHIA, April 9, 2021 — Eileen Teti was thinking 2020 was going to be her year. She was in the process of renovating Hair Way to Beauty, a Northeast Philadelphia salon she had purchased just a few years earlier.
In early March, she had just finished repainting the salon too. Then, a week later, COVID-19 hit.
“We basically had to cease operations for a few months, and that was really tough. It definitely was not how I expected the year to start,” Teti says. “Then, even when we opened, everything was so different than before, given the new restrictions.”
Teti was fortunate as she had been a recipient of a grant from The Merchants Fund (TMF), a Philadelphia foundation that supports businesses with financial needs in the form of business stabilization and emergency grants. She was also benefiting from Beyond the Grant, a special six-month intensive business mentorship and coaching program offered by the Fund for grantees.
Through that program, she was connected with the Institute for Business and Information Technology (IBIT), an outreach center of Temple University’s Fox School of Business that has been providing free digital services to small businesses and nonprofits affected by COVID-19. IBIT and TMF have partnered to offer these same services to some of the fund’s grant recipients, including Hair Way to Beauty.
Through IBIT, Temple students worked to build a new website for Hair Way to Beauty, complete with a scheduling feature. They also rebranded the salon and relaunched all of its social media.
“It was so helpful. In Northeast Philadelphia, our clientele is changing, they’re getting younger, and these services can help us reach them,” Teti says. “In the short time that they were testing the scheduling feature, someone actually booked an appointment too.”
According to George Pitsakis, program manager of Beyond the Grant, TMF clients have been seeking help with their digital transformation efforts for several years. The pandemic accelerated the need for them, but it’s a need that has existed for some time, and it’s not going anywhere, either.
“Our core portfolio of grantees are micro-businesses,” Pitsakis says. “They’re Black- and Brown-owned, immigrant-owned and women-owned businesses. Rather than the Silicon Valley startup model of fast growth entrepreneurship, most really want to find a way to have a high-quality life while running the business they love. We work to help them make their business more efficient and sustainable, and that’s where these IBIT projects are so impactful.”
Currently, IBIT, which started its program to focus on businesses and nonprofits impacted by the pandemic, is working with five TMF clients, who are part of the Beyond the Grant program. Given the continued need for digital transformation services, both IBIT and TMF plan to partner well into the future.
“We have about five more projects with (The Merchants Fund), and in discussions with them, it seems clear that this service is important to continue post-pandemic,” says Rich Flanagan, a retired Fox School of Business faculty member and IBIT’s small business and nonprofit program manager. “They have said that we are the only reliable digital transformation service they’ve had, and they have tried several partners, so we are working on a plan to sustain the service.”
Thanks to the support of its corporate members, including Alexion, AmerisourceBergen, Arcweb, DecisiveEdge, Emtec, NBCUniversal, Pfizer, Scholastic, and Synacor, the IBIT program is funded till June 30, 2021. As part of the program, IBIT is able to offer these services free of charge to businesses and nonprofits in the Southeastern Pa. region, as well as selected organizations across the country.
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