Jan 25

WIR’ED Project Kicks Off with Students, Advisors Collaborating to Help Small Business Owners Improve Marketing in an Online Environment

WIR’ED works to improve Cleveland shopkeepers’ online presence during COVID-19 pandemic

CLEVELAND – Students from the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and East Cleveland Schools, and advisers from the NeoSTEM Ecosystem, Case Western Reserve University, and the Old Brooklyn Community Development Corporation gathered online to kick off the second pilot of WIR’ED, a program that pairs students and marketing professionals with business owners to improve their online operations.

Conceived in March 2020 by NeoSTEM leaders and the Old Brooklyn CDC, WIR’ED seeks to respond to the needs of brick-and-mortar businesses with little or no online presence struggling to operate in the increasingly socially distanced and online world triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Martha Holden Jennings Foundation and Case Western Reserve University partnered to provide funding for the project.

Mel McGee, founder of We Can Code It, led the meeting, explaining the project’s hopes both for the skills the students will develop and the help participating businesses will receive.

“The project’s goals are to provide the students with a meaningful learning experience as leaders,” McGee said. “They’ll learn about marketing, about social media, about online management, about business communication and how it works. They’ll really dip their toes into the water of what working businesses look like, what they look like, working to provide business owners help at a time they need it most.”

Ideas, Exploration, Passion: Students Describe their Excitement for WIR’ED

“I’m excited for this project because it’s something I never did before, or something that I never even came close to trying.”
~ Arianette, freshman, Garrett Morgan High School

“One word to describe myself would be determined, and I’m excited to join this project because it will not only enhance the skills that I have, but allow me to share with my community.”
~ Kayla, senior, Facing History New Tech High School

“One word that describes me is optimistic, and I’m excited about my involvement with this project because I enjoy helping people.”
~ Julie, junior, Shaw High School

“I’m excited to be in a program that’s able to help people during the pandemic. It’s different.”
~ Rhianna, sophomore, East Tech High School

“I’m excited about getting my ideas out there and helping the public.”
~ Kellen, senior, East Tech High School

“One word to describe be is creative, and I’m excited to be on this project because I like working with technology and being on social media.”
~ Rickeya, junior Cleveland School of Science and Medicine

As they work through the six-week project, teams of two to three students will pair with marketing professionals to create marketing strategies and digital business plans for business owners. The students will help businesses set up technology infrastructures and establish social media presences on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. The students will also learn broader business management skills, such as organizational leadership, team-based communication, and self-sufficiency.

“The students will have the opportunity to actually talk to business owners, who’ll look to them for advice,” McGee said. “They’re very smart, capable people, but they’re focused on their businesses and might not know some of the things the students do.”

In addition to serving businesses themselves, WIR’ED aims to boost the students’ confidence by placing them in positions to help others meet their own goals.

“When I was thinking about this project and all of the good it did for the businesses in Brooklyn, I kept coming back to a young student who participated in the first pilot and all the good it did her,” Alyssa Briggs, NeoSTEM’s director, said. “The confidence that it gave her, the connections she made, and the feeling that she walked away with knowing her skills and outlooks were valued by somebody else. It was pretty profound.”

The students will also learn self-management skills. They’ll be paid a stipend for their work, but must track their time, maintain participation in the program, and meet performance standards.

“Like any job, you must maintain participation, do the work, and meet your goals in order to be paid,” McGee said.

Going forward, the students will attend meetings with their assigned marketing professionals beginning in early February, continuing each week through mid-March.

Businesses participating in WIR’ED include the JDL Treat & Flower Shoppe in Old Brooklyn; the Historical Society of Old Brooklyn; Gus’s Old Brooklyn Family Restaurant; the Falafel Café in Cleveland; the Northeast Ohio Alliance for Hope in East Cleveland; Young Achievers Ohio in East Cleveland; the East Cleveland Neighborhood Center; and the Bill Kap Piano Company in East Cleveland.

Marketing professionals volunteering with WIR’ED are Todd Franko, Director of Local Sustainability for Report for America; Siddartha Sen, Operations Research Analyst for the Veale Foundation; Adrienne Sabo, founder and Creative Director of Clever; Matt Wilkinson, General Manager of Digital Marketing and Customer Acquisition for Goodyear; and Molly Ware, Digital Marketing Director for Goodyear.

For more information, contact Alyssa Briggs at alyssabriggs@tiesteach.org.