The Isenberg Covid-19 Response Initiative Serves Local Businesses in Need
October 08, 2021
The Covid-19 economic crisis hit Massachusetts hard in 2020, with customers staying home, stores closing, and businesses having to lay off employees: At one point in July, the state had the highest unemployment rate in the country. At the same time, Isenberg students saw their work experience opportunities decline as hiring freezes and declines in the job market took hold.
Out of such need came opportunities for local businesses and Isenberg students, in the form of the Isenberg Covid-19 Response Team. In June 2020, Isenberg began offering a no-cost consulting service to local small businesses and nonprofits, with the goals of increasing their online and digital capabilities and/or improving operating strategies and efficiencies.
According to Traci Hess, associate dean of graduate and professional programs, who launched the project, more than 30 undergraduate and graduate students volunteered for the initiative, which supported 15 local companies. “We based our initiative on the national-level project organized by the Association for Information Systems (AIS), an academic organization of IS faculty. Two of our MBA students, Joa Alexander and Rick Pflasterer, were also working with a national organization, MBAs Fight Covid-19, to provide support for small businesses and organizations. Joa and Rick became the intake coordinators for the Isenberg initiative, and the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship connected us with the local companies in need.” Local companies applied for assistance via an online form promoted by local chambers of commerce, said Hess. “Rick and Joa did the intake and I assigned the local companies to student teams and project leaders.”
The initiative was an instant hit. “Covid’s impact was far-reaching and our responses from the community reflected that,” said Alexander. “We heard from restaurants and gift shops, as well as businesses and nonprofits in healthcare, education, produce, and agriculture, to name a few. Businesses were looking for support in a range of areas, but the top two needs were creating a digital marketing strategy and developing an online storefront.”
“Business owners in the area expressed a strong preference for local support and working with Isenberg students,” Alexander said. “From these conversations, I learned how much the businesses care for the community and customers they serve.”
According to Pflasterer, the initiative was an opportunity for Isenberg students to get hands-on business consulting experience. “This initiative provided an opportunity to develop some of those skills so we could show employers the real outputs of our efforts while also recognizing that we are making an impact for businesses at a time that they need the support.” Several student organizations recruited their members to support the initiative including the Graduate Consulting Club, Isenberg Undergraduate Consulting Group (IUCG), Delta Sigma Pi (DSP), and the Operations & Information Management (OIM) Club.
The projects required students to take on the responsibility and accountability to manage their client relationships, set expectations, and deliver value with little oversight or structure, said Pflasterer. “It was a test of perseverance and autonomy in an ambiguous consulting role and Isenberg students quickly jumped in and met that challenge head-on.”
Adi Sardesai (MBA ’21) was the lead on projects for The Dirty Truth beer hall in Northampton and the Leverett Village Co-Op. For the Dirty Truth, his team provided web design critique and evaluation and offered suggestions for improving point of sale materials. For the Leverett Village Co-op, his team provided some operations advice and recommendations and best practices for business ideas that the Co-op wanted to implement.
According to Sardesai, "the Covid-19 response let me put to work my education in a real-world scenario and actually make a difference in a time of need for many people."
“It was the perfect collision of need and opportunity,” said Gregory S. Thomas ‘91, executive director of the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship. “Our local businesses received leading-edge support, advice, and hands-on implementation help from Isenberg students. Our students need pragmatic hands-on practice, and our local businesses need our students’ expertise.”
Many thanks to the following students – from the classes 2020-2022 – who volunteered on the initiative:
Kevin Aboukheir, Joa Alexander, Nicole Alvarez, Benjamin Boncaldo, Sky Dedrick, Margaret Doyle, Salim Farah, Andrew Flaherty, Anna Gishin, Madeline Green, John Howard, Alex Jacobs, Anushree Jana, Andrew Kassler, Sean Kelleher, Sulin Kim, Kelsie McAllister, Sara Miller, Caroline Nguyen, Sean O’Connor, Alana O’Loughlin, Ting Pan, Rick Pflasterer, Devon Roshankish, Noa Sade, Adi Sardesai, Swapnil Shah, Jack Shewchuk, Catherine Simonds Carly Sklar, Owen Thoft-Brown , Liat Vishny, and Evan Weinreb.
Local companies served through the Isenberg Covid-19 Response Initiative include: