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Small Business Digitization

Imagine owning a small business and not having the budget or technological knowledge to create, update, or manage your digital presence. Now envision a team of WPI students coming to your rescue—for free. That’s what the Small Business Digitization Services (SBDS) Program is all about. This no-cost community resource was launched in May by a team that included Norm Wilkinson, executive director of programs in the Foisie Business School, and Gina Betti, recently retired director of outreach.

In collaboration with the Small Business Development Center at Clark University and the Center for Women and Enterprise in Westborough, SBDS deploys student teams as digitization consultants to small businesses and nonprofits in central Massachusetts.

According to Betti, the project has been a great success to date—from both a student and a local business perspective. “I am delighted when I hear directly from our small business and nonprofit clients who are so pleased with how our students were able to help them prioritize digitization needs and worked to resolve them.”

An Thi-Phuc Tran ’21 says that she greatly appreciated this opportunity to help real businesses during the pandemic. “Specifically, I was able to experience how to deal with different kinds of clients, from those who are tech-savvy to a completely non-tech person. I was also able to improve other professional skills, such as communication, leadership, and virtual meeting organization,” she shares.

“The students have been wonderful to work with, and we feel that the WPI team really cared about our success.”

Juliet Feibel, executive director, ArtsWorcester, says that the students working on the arts organization’s website were smart, responsive, professional, and “they worked their tails off to address the needs we specified.” Together, Feibel and the students researched and implemented a better e-commerce platform, ran a focus group, and re-organized the site to serve visitors more effectively. “The students required nearly nothing from us outside of our meetings, and saved us at least $10,000—funds that we otherwise would have had to cut from other programs or raise anew. Their work will have an immediate and significant impact,” she says.

“We were thrilled to be a client,” say Sandie and Ken Wheeler, owners of Pets Gone Healthy. “The students have been wonderful to work with, and we feel that the WPI team really cared about our success.”

Charlie Koutsogiane ’22, an MBA student and advisor to the project, says this responsibility was nothing but positive. “A program that allows small businesses to pivot and continue to thrive, while giving students the chance to cut their teeth on real work, is a win-win,” he says. “It is also refreshing, in a time where people tend to answer tragedy with hollow well-wishes, to see the school willing to start something that only benefits others—specifically others who tend to be under-appreciated.”

Sandra Wellinghoff, director of blended learning, says that not only has this program helped many local businesses, but it has given students an opportunity to gain experience during a time of quarantine and canceled plans. “Many students had lost summer internships due to the pandemic,” she explains, “but they were still able to get experience and learn new skillsets that they can add to their resumes.” 

Kelly Roberts, owner of My Healthy Birth—which now has a new online birthing resource directory, thanks to the SBDS team—sums up the success of the program when she says, “I am grateful for this fantastic opportunity that benefits community organizations and WPI students alike.”

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