Small Business Development Center Uplifting During Pandemic

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It’s been a busy spring for Riley Friauf  ‘22. An MBA candidate in the Barowsky School of Business, Riley is gaining hands-on business skills working as an intern for the Marin Small Business Development Center (SBDC). An All-American honorable mention player for Dominican University of California’s women’s basketball team, she was among the top scorers nationwide in NCAA Division II.

Evidenced by her ability to combine athletics and academics, Riley is skilled at multitasking. This makes her a perfect fit for the Marin SBDC, where her roles and responsibilities go above and beyond her title of intern. Riley works with Marin SBDC staff guiding business clients through the economic challenges of the pandemic.

“Knowing you are part of something bigger than yourself is really impactful. Sharing these stories about these people who have launched their businesses and are passionate about it and are trying to make it work – even through the pandemic – is inspiring to me,” Riley says. “I’ve gained so much knowledge by learning how they get loans and how they have received more information on how to market their products or their business. It’s had a big influence on me and my career aspirations.”

Miriam Hope Karell, Marin SBDC Director, has been leading the nonprofit since 2013, which provides no cost business advising to support small business growth in Marin County. Since 2017, the Marin SBDC has been located at Dominican and partnering with BSB and the Francoise Lepage Center for Global Innovation to give business students access to work with local entrepreneurs and organizations. The Marin SBDC is one of 16 such centers in Northern California that are partially funded by the Small Business Administration.

“We are grateful to be hosted by Dominican and look forward to becoming more integrated at the University and serving the business community,” Miriam says. “During the shelter-in-place period, we became the central county focus supporting Marin businesses. We helped retain almost 1,700 jobs and, based on our calculations in terms of all Paycheck Protection Program funding given out in Marin County, we helped 10 percent of all businesses who got PPP funded. We made a huge impact. It’s been a long haul.”

It started the first week of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 when Miriam checked the SBDC phone answering machine and there were more than 400 missed calls and hundreds of messages.

“It was a madhouse,” Miriam says. “I had to quickly hire new team members and we all worked around the clock. I’ve never submitted such large invoices to BSO on behalf of my team before. In one quarter, I spent an entire grant. Luckily, we had CARES Act funds and an increase in Marin County funding to help support this work.”

One of Miriam’s team members at the time was Mariana Hernandez '20. She was an SBDC intern. The experience had a profound effect on Mariana, who is now a marketing specialist for Global Promotion at Autodesk and content creator and account manager for Pao.

“Miriam and Matthew (Marin SBDC Program Manager) have literally worked so hard to help provide clients with funding resources, funding applications, and overall support during the pandemic,” says Mariana, who still works part-time for SBDC. “My tasks at the time included researching workshops clients could attend that would provide them with the opportunity to learn how to adapt to the situation at hand as well as protocols of what other cities were doing so Miriam could propose initiatives to Marin County. The pandemic has been stressful for many local businesses and I acknowledge that through the work of our wonderful advisors, many local businesses have been able to stay afloat (if not continue thriving). Both Miriam and Matthew have been wonderful leaders who truly care about the wellbeing of the community. They are the reason I can appreciate the service the SBDC provides.”

SBDC has the numbers. During the pandemic, Marin SBDC – with its team of advisers for consultation on pivoting strategies, lease negotiations, e-commerce, loans, financial and cash flow strategies, marketing, social media, human resources and management – has provided more than 8,250 hours of direct service and one-on-one advising support to more than 1,700 unique clients. This is more than the Marin SBDC does in a five-year period and they did it in 1.5 years. It also hosted more than 100 workshops for more than 2,250 attendees. In this time period, they helped Marin businesses get $67 million in funding and helped increase their sales by more than $22 million.

 “It’s been amazing. I feel incredibly grateful that we were able to step up and quickly adjust and give support. Many businesses told us they would not have survived if it weren’t for our assistance,” Miriam says. “We truly were a team.”

Miriam shared these results with SBDC interns past and present including Mariana, Jessly Chicas ’21, Ezra Talbert MBA ’19 who is starting his own business, and Nhan Pham ’19, MBA ’20, who is Director of Operations and Program Assistant at the Multicultural Center of Marin. Riley also saw the numbers.

“Are you serious? I know you are helping businesses, but I didn’t know it was to this extent,” Riley told Miriam. “It was eye-opening. I was blown away.”

Riley, who lives in Vancouver, WA and transferred to Dominican from Concordia University in Portland, was referred to Miriam as an intern through Courtney Budesa, Director of Internships and Professional Development for BSB. With Marin SBDC, Dominican students have opportunities to help local businesses with case studies and research projects. They get a real-world perspective of business.

“Aside from strengthening my data analytics skills, the main takeaway I get from working at the SBDC is the importance of community and overall business planning,” says Mariana, who started interning at Marin SBDC in 2019.  “Local businesses recycle a much larger share of their revenue back into the local economy thus enriching the whole community. Understanding strategies that work versus those that don't has been exciting to learn. The SBDC offers many workshops to help advise business owners and upon attending marketing-based ones, it helps strengthen my overall knowledge.”

For Riley, who wants to apply her MBA degree to a career in the technology and cyber security industry for either sales or marketing, the Marin SBDC internship has been rewarding.

“I didn’t realize how much information I would get in the business area, but I feel like I know Marin business inside and out,” she says. “It’s been a great experience overall.”

Photo above of MBA student and intern Riley Friauf (left) sitting with Marin SBDC director Miriam Hope Karell.

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