Propel program pairs UVA students with small businesses in need of a virtual makeover

Propel program pairs UVA students with small businesses in need of a virtual makeover
UVA student Jewel Simon designed an online platform for Fluvanna small businesses. (Source: WVIR)

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Jewel Simon, a rising fourth-year student at the University of Virginia, was supposed to be an intern with a marketing company this summer, until COVID-19 changed her plans.

“I was under the impression that it was either going to be virtual or started at a later start-date, but during my finals week I got a call and they said they had to rescind their offer for my internship,” Simon said. “It was very unexpected. It was quite a shock at the time.”

Now she’s in the Propel Management Consulting Program, which pairs UVA students looking for real-world business and consulting experience will small businesses it hard by the pandemic.

“We’re impacting rural communities and helping small businesses thrive,” Simon said.

Students are tasked with making websites, marketing plans, and finding solutions to help business owners transition to the new, virtual, normal. Groups must prepare presentations on their plan and present it to a group of judges who will choose a winner.

Simon says she’s learned how important it is to support rural communities, because they often need the most help. “I’ve learned more about Fluvanna County now than I have living in Charlottesville for 10 plus years,” she said.

Rebecca Haydock, director of the Central Virginia Small Business Development Center, says it’s a win-win situation.

“The need is significant and more helpful with these businesses, with these counties, helping communities come together and the outreach from UVA is incredible," Haydock said. "It’s strong. It’s heart-warming. ”

Haydock said the students’ work will continue to help small businesses long after the 10-week program is over. “This kind of connectivity is doing so much to raise the spirits of communities and business owners," she said.

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