Economic Recovery

USD student Laura Bolt ’21 (BA)


Interning at a small business wasn’t Laura Bolt’s ’21 (BA) first choice for the summer. But for her, it turned out to be the best one.

In the midst of a pandemic posing unprecedented challenges to USD and small businesses, both are banding together for mutually-beneficial partnerships.

When her study abroad trip to Austria was canceled, Bolt (pictured) began interning with MAKESafe Tools in San Diego. According to owner Scott Swaaley, the plan for this year was to invest heavily in trade shows for the startup firm, which sells industrial safety products. When those events were canceled, the small firm reinvested in digital marketing and advertising.

With her major in physics, Bolt’s technical background and communication skills made her “an obvious choice.” Over the summer, she helped upgrade the firm’s website and search engine optimization efforts. Swaaley says her contributions have been invaluable.

For her part, the internship “turned out to be the best thing I could have done with my time this summer,” Bolt says. She thinks such interdisciplinary experiences will be a “huge help” working with engineering teams in the future.

The internship is just one example of how USD’s Career Development Center and The Brink, its small business development center, worked to pair dozens of students with local businesses in need of qualified interns.

Thanks to the generosity of the Kenrose Kitchen Table Foundation — the philanthropic initiative of J.D. Power and his family, along with other generous USD donors — 86 students were paid for their summer internships, without having to worry about taking a financial hit or having to seek a summer job, says Robin Darmon, senior director of the Career Development Center.

“At a time when students were struggling to find meaningful professional experiences and small businesses needed more assistance, these connections with our region’s start-ups were a huge success,” she says.

This spring, The Brink’s San Diego Angel Conference awarded $400,000 to three local start-ups, including $200,000 to AgTools, which provides real-time data and analysis to farmers and other agricultural businesses.

Through the federal CARES Act, The Brink helped dozens of businesses access emergency funding and trained more than 85 businesses through its Pivot Series workshops focused on raising money and connecting with customers during the pandemic. It also connected small business clients with students’ senior capstone projects to create new ideas for sales channels and market analyses.

Working with San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, The Brink also launched Innovate Up, an effort to support entrepreneurs in underserved neighborhoods. As of June 1, some 220 entrepreneurs had received more than 100 hours of training.

Working together, USD and small businesses can make a real impact, says Rhett Buttle ’07 (BA), founder of Public Private Strategies, a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm.

Some 100 million people — representing the diverse faces of America — are either small business owners or work for a small business, he notes. People of color, for example, own more than 11 million businesses, generating more than $1.8 trillion in revenue, while women-owned businesses generate $1.9 trillion in revenue.

“The best way to achieve a recovery for all is to put small business and their job-creating, wealth-building power at the center of our recovery efforts,” Buttle says. “With the right tools, small businesses can help us all rebuild.” — Liz Harman

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