Olin launches Ferguson small business initiative

Deborah Spencer | Staff Reporter

Olin Business School will launch a new initiative for both undergraduate and graduate students to help small businesses in the coming weeks, partly as a response to damages that occurred in Ferguson, Mo., last August.

The initiative will be organized by Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning. According to Daniel Bentle, associate director of the center, the business school usually focuses on sending students to larger corporations and startups to offer consulting services and has been looking to help small businesses for some time.

The initiative is currently recruiting business school students to participate in the new program. Bentle said that he felt the University had an obligation to use its resources to help the local community.

“We have an immense resource here, which is our students, who have passion, raw intelligence and just incredibly quickly developing leadership skills, and the question is how do we leverage that for the greater good in the community?” Bentle said. “In the end, this initiative is simply focused on doing good in our community, which we have a responsibility to do.”

The school is partnering with Emerson Electric Company, whose headquarters are in Ferguson. Emerson Electronics has already launched a program to help other businesses in the area and will be providing resources and support.

Bentle doesn’t yet know what the school’s contribution will look like.

“The way in which we will be helping and supporting is entirely dependent on the needs of the businesses, and the ability and skills of our students, and the intersection between them,” Bentle said.

He is looking for students within the school to be part of the pilot, which will last through the fall semester.

“[We’re reaching out to] students we know through classes or other engagements who’ve demonstrated passion and leadership and interest in supporting the community and asking them to step forward,” Bentle said.

Students are also excited about the chance for undergraduates to help the community.

“I think it’s a great idea,” senior Brad Pearl said. “It’s a great initiative to better the St. Louis community. I think the sophomore and junior classes can have a lasting impact as the St. Louis community helps Ferguson come out of this distress.”

“I think it’s really important that kids at Wash. U. think outside of Wash. U. We have so many smart kids and resources, so we could really be a big help if we look outside,” junior Zachary Eagle said.