From powering pearl milk tea shops to revving up local restaurants, an undergraduate consulting initiative is working to help local businesses boom.
Kiron Chandy, BS 14, is president and co-founder of the new program, Consult Your Community (CYC) at UC Berkeley. Chandy got her first taste of consulting when she offered marketing assistance to a Bay Area dry cleaner. She was 14 years old, but saw even then an opportunity for business and philanthropy to intersect.
“I’d walk in with my dad and we would casually talk with the owners about marketing strategy. They wanted to promote that they were the first in the city to use green technology and I realized I had the skills to help,” she says. Chandy designed a website for the cleaner which led to a photo opp with the mayor and an influx of new clients. “I saw that the work I had done made an impact and they were so thankful they gave me free dry cleaning after that,” she says.
CYC provides pro bono consulting services to low-income and minority small business owners in college communities. Launched February 2013, CYC has been featured in The New York Times and rapidly expanded to 15 college campuses nationwide, including Harvard, Stanford, and Columbia.
Recent Haas graduate and Founder Michael Bloch, BS 13, and winner of Haas’ Beyond Yourself award at graduation, saw the need for an organization that would help students develop business experience while also giving back to the local community. Last spring, he jumped into action, recruiting Chandy to take the reins in Berkeley while he promulgated the initiative nationally.
“So many organizations flounder after a change in leadership,” says Bloch. “I was graduating, so I needed to find people who were passionate about our mission who could continue the great work we’ve been doing this summer, from recruiting board members to getting nationwide publicity.”
The CYC model helps small businesses to develop strategies for sustainable growth, students to gain consulting skills and hands-on experience, and consulting firms to develop promising talent. CYC is negotiating partnerships with McKinsey & Company, Bain & Company, and Deloitte Consulting, who have agreed to offer training, advising, and support.
“As students, we saw potential to help these businesses because, in many cases, we are their best customers,” says Chandy. “We know what we’re looking for in the services they provide, so we have an active interest in trying to help.” She points out that small businesses constitute over 99% of employer firms in the U.S., yet many struggle to stay afloat. “Only half of small businesses make it to their fifth year,” she says.
Last spring, the Berkeley chapter consulted a small grocer, a Korean restaurant, and tapioca drink (pearl milk tea) shop. CYC founding member Andrea Perez helped the grocery store with a marketing campaign and says customer acquisition was the challenge, not loyalty. “They are known for their sandwiches by their most loyal customers, but people just walking by wouldn’t even know they had a deli.”
CYC has set ambitious goals, aiming for 25 chapters and 800 members serving 100 businesses in 2014. The Berkeley team put in long hours this summer, many of them interning by day and working in the Haas Undergraduate Lounge by night.
Sophomore Kristie Chang recently joined CYC as a marketing intern to be part of a cause that helps people. “As an account executive for the Daily Cal, I hear a lot from local businesses fighting to barely break even,” she says. “This made me wake up to the fact that we as students can do something about it. We all have some business knowledge, and they are people who can really make use of it.”