Each summer the Digital Spark program, run by the U-Imagine Center, pairs students with local businesses for an eight-week immersive experience. The businesses partnering with Digital Spark specialize in industries such as food service, real estate, eye care and beyond giving students a different perspective from their work in the classroom.
Students in the Digital Spark program traditionally provide digital marketing support, which includes social media, website design and content generation, while they network and learn more about businesses operate and how they market themselves to the local area.
This year the cohort, comprised of ten businesses and ten students, faces a whole new set of challenges due to the global pandemic and economic shut down.
Since the program started on May 26, the students have been working remotely to assist the businesses who have and continue to be in varying stages of closure as Montgomery County moves from the red phase to the yellow phase. However, the economic shut down has not stopped students from bringing their technological savviness and insights to their work with local businesses.
“The tables have turned a bit between students and the businesses. The students are, in some cases, the leaders in educating and training their businesses on using and leveraging technology, which is a new role for both of them,” says Maureen Cumpstone, the entrepreneur-in-residence at the U-Imagine Center.
According to Cumpstone, they have spent a lot of time discussing how students can take the lead and collaborate with businesses in an effective and organic way. She meets weekly with the students to reflect on what they are learning and to brainstorm how they can continue to support businesses with empathy and creativity.
“Entrepreneurs are generalists, and they have to wear many different hats in order to keep their business moving forward. Our students are working alongside them and engaged in a broad scope of work. For the students, this opportunity allows them to develop a wide range of skills, which can be exhilarating and challenging at the same time,” says Cumpstone.
In addition to Cumpstone, the students meet virtually with three alumni advisers. This summer Dana Feigenbaum Jackson ’15, Chelsea Sayegh ’16 and Sarah Weber ’18 are offering their expertise to the cohort as they all continue to navigate new business models and practices in the coronavirus era. —By Jordan Scharaga ’17
Maureen Cumpstone’s Advice for Local Businesses During the Shutdown
Businesses should focus on staying in touch with their friends, business organizations, local business owners and clients to share ideas and keep their momentum moving forward.
Stay Creative and Innovative
Businesses should think about how they can provide services to generate revenue, even if it is a small amount. New, creative ideas can come from anything including conversations with their network of businesses, friends and clients.
Fuel Your Passion
Finding small amounts of revenue can remind owners why they started their businesses in the first place. This energy can keep business owners motivated even if their operations have slowed down.
Plan Effectively and Strategically
If businesses are unable to offer services or to find revenue they should have a game plan ready to go for when they plan to reopen. In this down time, businesses should work on having lots of new content queued up, so they can hit the ground running when they resume regular operations.