This semester, a group of five students in the Darla Moore School of Business have used a class project as an opportunity to work with a new local business in Five Points.
The students are all in MGMT 479: Applications in Entrepreneurship and New Ventures with professor Kasie Whitener and had eight options for businesses to partner with for the class. In the end, they chose to work side-by-side with All Good Books, a bookstore that recently opened in Five Points.
"So the idea is that up until this point, they've learned what it takes to be an entrepreneur. They have an idea of what it takes to build a business from scratch," Whitener, who is also the programs director for the Faber Entrepreneurship Center in the Darla Moore School of Business, said.
While the students' roles began as an assignment for their class, the group has found themselves gaining more from the experience than just a grade, getting to see firsthand what it's like to run a small business.
“Once I was able to sign up for specifically the bookstore, I got really, really excited,” Mackenzie Roach, a fourth-year operations and supply chain, finance and management-entrepreneurship student, said. “I was excited for Five Points to get a new independent, daytime store, so I'm not really doing it as much as a project for school. I'm just sort of viewing it as working with a business and getting experience and also helping their business be successful.”
Another student in the group, fourth-year management-entrepreneurship and marketing student Lance Vu, said that this was the best opportunity available in a management class to match his marketing major.
“This one was mainly focused on the marketing aspect, and since that is one of my majors, I thought, ‘Maybe that’d be something I’d be interested in and probably could take something away from that,’” Vu said.
The opportunity has also taught participant and fourth-year marketing and management student Helen Berlin how a new small business can create a sense of togetherness between Columbia's residents.
“I honestly think that people are moving away from these big corporate giants and want to give back to their community. And the fact that Five Points is starting to open up more businesses like All Good Books, it builds a sense of community within Columbia,” Berlin said. “It is just rebuilding the city.”
Roach said that closeness and community were a foundation to believe in All Good Books’ future and develop an increased appreciation for local bookstores over large corporations.
“To see how excited everyone was for the bookstore to be opening in Five Points and the community of friends and donors that the owners know is just, that was really cool to see,” Roach said. “That really gave me confidence that they'll be successful.”
Clint Wallace, co-owner of All Good Books, said that working with USC students also strengthens the business by allowing the store to reach a wider audience.
“The students are helping us build that bridge between what we're doing and the university community, but they're in particular focused on the students and sort of figuring out how we connect with them and get students to come in the door,” Wallace said.
The students are optimistic that their efforts of deliberating marketing plans and analyzing prices will help to better the store in the long run, according to Vu.
“When I'm gone, people can still go to and hopefully like the events that we have planned for the future. (Hopefully) people attend them, enjoy them, and it just continues to grow,” Vu said. “I just gotta leave my mark as a senior.”
Through her work with this class and with the Faber Center, Whitener said she strives to "bridge the gap between campus and our community" by having students work with local mentors and takes pride watching that gap close through this assignment, especially when her students apply themselves as this team has.
“I like it when they have fun. I'm the most proud when they're having fun, when they get excited about the project, when they're engaged with the business owner, when they're learning something, I'm most proud of that,” Whitener said.
So far, the students have focused mainly on marketing plans and helped some with the store's events, but according to all three students, they have been planning a night geared toward the USC’s community, which is set for April 4 from 6 pm to 8 p.m.