MTU Students Serve Small UP Businesses During Crisis

Exterior of Academic Offices Building in spring on the Michigan Tech campus
Exterior of Academic Offices Building in spring on the Michigan Tech campus
To help serve UP businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Michigan Small Business Development Center hired Michigan Tech business students as interns, and looks to hire more.

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.

About SBDC

With 11 regional offices and more than 20 satellite offices, the Michigan Small Business Development Center is a partnership funded by the US Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC). Along with local partners, it provides consulting, training and research to assist small businesses to launch, grow, transition and innovate.

Interested? Request an appointment with your SBDC team.

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 founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.