It’s the morning of Sunday, March 15. For Maura Shenker and her colleagues at Temple University’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC), it’s the end of what’s been… a week.
“Normally, in a month, we get about 140 folks reaching out for different reasons. In just over a week though, we had more than 300 and this was all while we were in the process of switching to working remotely,” says Shenker, director of the SBDC.
It was time to make a call for help. Clients needed help adapting. Many were unaware as to whether they would need to close. Others did not know how to take their business online. Also, due to the rate at which the news cycle was changing, Shenker needed help keeping all of the SBDC’s clients apprised.
“I reached out to (Fox School of Business Dean) Ron Anderson at 10:30 a.m. Within a half hour, he had me on a Zoom call with every dean in the school,” Shenker says.
It’s not hyperbole to say that the role of the SBDC has never been more important than it is now. As of March 22, 44% of businesses in the U.S. were not operating. The total impact of lost wages in the U.S. could reach as much as $60 billion.
Funded jointly by the U.S. Small Business Administration, the PA Department of Community & Economic Development and the Fox School of Business, the SBDC’s mission is to provide entrepreneurs and small businesses with the knowledge needed to make informed business decisions.
Clients need to lean on the SBDC for support, but the SBDC needs increased support, too. Thankfully, it has been able to find it within the Fox School and School of Sport, Tourism and Hospitality Management (STHM).
According to Shenker, that Sunday morning Zoom call was key in helping the SBDC best serve its audiences.
“Immediately, folks started reaching out and volunteering to pitch in,” Shenker says. “The pressure is so great because nobody has all of the information, and it changes daily. There’s a time sensitivity and pressure that isn’t normally there for small businesses. Also, everybody is feeling isolated and scared, and imagine trying to make business decisions when you’re worried about your health, your family’s health and your company’s health. It’s that perfect storm right now, and that’s why it’s been an all hands on deck situation.”
One of the first initiatives to come out of the Zoom meeting was the COVID-19 & the Tourism/Hospitality Industry Realtime Series, a series of webinars designed to assist professionals from the restaurant, tourism and hospitality industry who have been affected by COVID-19. Ongoing sessions are scheduled for every Monday through April, and Shenker says STHM faculty members have been the driving force behind the webinars. She also credits the Fox Marketing and Communications team for quickly creating an invite and graphics that could be used to promote the series.
Help has also come from Munir Mandviwalla, executive director of the Institute for Business and Information Technology (IBIT). Students from IBIT have volunteered to create e-commerce websites for SBDC clients.
“Many of our clients have brick and mortar stores but maybe weren’t selling online, so IBIT was able to help create these and is covering all of the costs. It’s no costs to the clients, no costs to the SBDC and they’re actually covering some of the tech costs. For some companies, this is the only way they could remain sustainable during this time,” Shenker says.
Other student workers across the Fox School have also assisted the SBDC by creating various FAQs regarding COVID-19 that can be provided to clients. With the news cycle changing rapidly, these FAQs often have to be updated several times a week.
“Absolutely, there’s no way we could do what we’re doing right now without the help of Fox, STHM and everybody working as a team and pitching in,” Shenker says. “The number of people that have reached out has just been incredible. It just makes me and my whole team feel better, and I am hopeful that these relationships will continue long after the crisis has passed.”