GVSU student mentors prime small businesses for success

As a mentor in Grand Valley State University's Seidman College of Business LendGR program, Eric Dzierwa expanded his classroom work to include real life experience with restaurants, clothing stores, a children’s virtual show, photography, and podcasting. He has mentored the owners of these businesses, helping them to write business plans, achieve marketing goals, launch social media, and create web content. An advertising and public relations major, Dzierwa graduates Friday (Dec. 11).

“Social media is absolutely the future. I have helped [business owners with] creating engaging websites and Facebook pages and tips on how they can have a better online presence,” Dzierwa says. “Some already are established and have followers. Others don’t even have a social media presence and have never had one. For some, I built a social media calendar with two months worth of content, along with a guide on how to best utilize their social media platforms."

Seidman’s DeVos Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation pays Dzierwa. The businesses pay nothing. They are startups, micro, and small businesses which have limited access to capital and resources. The program’s key targets are businesses owned by women, veterans, and people of color.

“The program is great. The businesses get up to 25 pro bono hours with students in different fields. The students have fresh ideas and want to help,” Dzierwa says. “Also, because a lot of the students are younger than the business owners, they connect the business owner with a different mindset than they had before.”

Started as a pilot program more than a year ago, LendGR has also directed its student mentors to offer clients help with navigating the economic impacts of COVID-19. The students help the businesses explore new models, capture different markets, and evolve business plans. Dzierwa has helped the businesses he worked with to develop ideas that will reap benefits long-term.

“They are putting their heart and soul into their businesses,” he says. “A lot of them are working on their own and don't have employees. They are their own boss. I give them a fresh set of eyes. You have to think outside of the box when you’re starting a new business.”

Dzierwa says that mentoring these businesses has been the most applicable experience of his college career — and a great resume builder.

“Every business has been in a different place. My job changes every time I’ve worked with a client,” he says. “It gave me the opportunity to work in the real world. These are people’s lives. When I’m creating for the client, like, my whole heart and soul aligns with them.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Grand Valley State University

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