Supporting Small Businesses

Students in PSU's MBA program spend tremendous amounts of time working closely together, so it’s only natural that they retain bonds beyond graduation. For a group of 2019 MBA alumni, however, the COVID-19 crisis catalyzed a casual reunion into a forward-thinking pro bono enterprise called the Portland Business Support Project.
 

“Our first get-together this year was a social gathering but our second meeting had to take place over video due to the coronavirus, and we were all concerned with helping Portland’s economy stay afloat,” recalls project volunteer Jennifer Greenberg, MBA. “Sustainability and giving back to the businesses around us are the foundations of the PSU MBA program, and we wanted to do something positive.”

Survival and Success

A collective of prominent professionals in finance, human relations, lending, operations, and management, the Portland Business Support Project offers free consulting to small businesses in this time of uncertainty. The project is staffed by more than 20 MBA alumni volunteers who self-organize into small teams for each client and tailor an approach to meet their needs.

“What makes Portland unique is its small business influence and ability to thrive in this area,” asserts volunteer Lauren Greer, MBA. “We provide business coaching and help strategize how to create revenue by bringing existing assets to the forefront. These changes might mark a temporary shift or become permanent parts of their business model.”
 

Approximately 20 small businesses (generally defined by fewer than 500 employees and less than $7.5 million in revenue) have signed up so far. Clients include a law firm, brewery/tap house, several restaurants, hair salons, and a construction-industry firm. 

A big factor in businesses’ current and long-term success is the transition to digital platforms, according to volunteer Jason Bruderlin, MBA. “Ultimately, we want to help businesses find ways to pivot and survive the crisis, and technology is a part of that,” he says. “We’re helping businesses understand different ways to reach clients using technology, which improves what they’re doing in the short-term and creates more interactive options to engage clients overall.”

Positive Impact

Connecting businesses to existing resources is another project offering. “There is a wide range of really good resources in Portland, but finding those resources can be tough,” explains Greenberg. “We’re linking into that infrastructure to help identify the right opportunities for each business.”

In addition, the collective is developing itself along the way. “We’re learning, building our material and resources, and becoming increasingly targeted about the work we’re doing,” says Bruderlin. “We’re really privileged to have been a part of PSU’s MBA program and it’s incumbent upon us to give back.”
 
Greer insists that the effort is mutually beneficial. “We get excited about problem-solving for businesses, and we have skillsets that are useful right now,” she says. “We want to have this experience in helping our community’s businesses and hope to have a lasting impact.”