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A new course at the University of Manitoba is partnering students and professors with local businesses to help them deal with the crisis created by COVID-19.
Launching in September, the semester-long course will allow fourth-year students to provide pro bono consultations to small businesses and non-profits in Winnipeg along with the guidance of a professor.
Upon completion of the course in early January, each business will be given practical recommendations on how to overcome specific challenges that may have been caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
So far, 20 businesses have "eagerly agreed" to participate, says Gady Jacoby, dean of the Asper School of Business.
"For so long," Jacoby told the Free Press, "we’ve been privileged to be supported by our local business community at the university."
"Now, it’s our time to give back."
Debra Jonasson-Young, executive director at the Stu Clark Centre for Entrepreneurship, said the idea for the course came about in the early days of the pandemic.
"We began to see, very early on, a need for us to give back while allowing our students to learn how to face this massive challenge head-on," she said.
Despite relaxed pandemic restrictions, only a third of Manitoban businesses are making normal or above normal revenues with more than half still unable to staff at normal levels, according to data from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
Jonasson-Young said this course will encourage students to "look beyond their textbooks" to find unique solutions to those current challenges faced by local businesses.
Projects during the course, she said, will be unique to each business and could focus on any aspect of the organization including business problem identification, strategic planning, marketing, technology, human resources, supply chain management, or financial analysis.
"Some businesses want help with social media, some want to move retail online," she added. "There are several areas that need help and our students can provide that for them while getting hands-on training through consultations."
Stephanie Kalo, president of the Commerce Students’ Association at the Asper School of Business, said the course couldn’t have come at a better time.
"As soon as students learned about it, right away the immediate response was, ‘How do I sign up?’" she said.
'We began to see, very early on, a need for us to give back while allowing our students to learn how to face this massive challenge head-on' — Debra Jonasson-Young
"We’ve all been wanting to give back to the Winnipeg business community in some way and the idea of learning specifically how a small business is run is incredibly valuable compared to a larger one where we wouldn’t be able to help in the same way."
Downtown Winnipeg coffee shop Fools & Horses is one of the businesses hoping to participate in the course.
"Because of the pandemic, we’ve particularly been struggling to move our business online," said co-owner Kendra Magnus-Johnston. "I’m hoping this amazing opportunity will allow us to get the expertise we need to get our feet back on the ground now and for the future."
"I can’t imagine a better moment for local businesses to embrace an opportunity like this."
Jacoby said the course is a pilot program for now, but "may be extended to coming years," given the feedback.
Course registration for "Applied Small Business Consulting" will be open to some students as early as next week.
Temur Durrani reports on the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for this Free Press reporting position comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.
Updated on Wednesday, July 22, 2020 at 8:39 PM CDT: Adds photo
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