By Walter Ryce
Published April 6, 2021
The Santa Cruz-based GetVirtual project launched in the summer of 2020 to fortify small businesses from the economic toll of the pandemic shutdown. It has worked by partnering with colleges and universities like CSUMB.
For local and community businesses that haven’t had the technical know-how or resources to transition into a digital and internet-based mode, the program matches them with university students who can help them do so for school credit.
It provides off-the-shelf software implementation including website development or redesign, e-commerce and delivery services, online marketing and support. The student services are free and businesses pay for software and other hard costs.
Entrepreneur Toby Corey and educator Nada Miljkovic are two principles behind the program. Partners include UC Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz County Business Council, Santa Cruz Economic Development and CSUMB.
The CSUMB campus contacts are Institute for Innovation and Economic Development (iiED) executive director Brad Barbeau and its economic development, funding and grants director Dan Ripke.
“The iiED is an early partner with the Get Virtual program,” said Ripke. “Dr. Brad Barbeau has been working with Toby to expand the concept here at CSUMB, and serves on the board. CSUMB has the largest program.”
The Service Learning Institute and the iiED collaborated in the pilot program. Forty-eight CSUMB students have volunteered 550 hours of community service, serving a total of 56 small businesses. Testimonials from the businesses helped by the program attest to the efficacy of the program.
“Both my husband and I have little knowledge in social media or websites,” said Cecilia Vanderlipé, instructor of the family-owned Kugtar Mixed Martial Arts Academy of Salinas. “We were offered an awesome GetVirtual team to help us on our website. We immediately were educated through our Zoom meetings on what they were going to help us with, and Kenneth took extra time contacting and educating me. The team did wonders in opening us up in social media.”
The Get Virtual is one of the key services provided by the iiED to support regional entrepreneurs.
“The program provides critical support to entrepreneurs struggling due to the COVID 19 pandemic, helping them to re-open and expand,” said Shyam Kamath, Dean of the College of Business. “It also provides a real-world learning environment for CSUMB College of Business students who can apply their classroom acquired skills. We look forward to expanding such programs as the economy continues to recover."
On March 16, Monterey County was moved out of the more restrictive purple tier into the red tier, allowing businesses like gyms, restaurants, movie theaters and museums to open at 10% -25% capacity. But the program has relevance beyond the pandemic.
“Although we are all excited to be moving back to reopening, it will remain imperative for businesses to have an effective presence in the virtual world,” Barbeau says. “Many restaurants, for example, have developed their takeout business as an important source of revenue that will continue even as we return to inside dining.”
Learn more on the getvirtual webpage.