Ten Drexel LeBow MBA students shared what they’ve learned in the classroom and in their careers to help early-stage West Philadelphia business owners compete for $10,000 in loan capital through the B Smart Program.
Established in 2017 by Drexel University, the West Philadelphia Corridor Collaborative, and the West Philadelphia Financial Services Institution (WPFSI), B Smart was created to address the lack of accessible, legitimate resources for early-stage companies.
Throughout the fall term, the MBA students attended B Smart workshops on Saturday mornings, advising business owners on core business principles, including where to allocate resources, how to identify their target market and how to look for opportunities for partnership. Each team collaborated to design both short pitches and formal business plans.
For Israel Castro, a part-time online MBA student with extensive experience in the banking and finance industries, the coaching sessions were an opportunity to give back. Castro has seen small businesses succeed or fail depending on their strength of their loan applications.
“I wanted to help them to think long-term and to think about what makes them different,” he says. “I feel very lucky that I was able to impact the way they see their businesses.”
As a second-year full-time MBA student, Amanda Myrkalo says she has benefited from working on elevator pitches for networking purposes. Advising the B Smart participants gave her chance to apply her experience in a different setting.
“I believe I helped them most by asking questions and pulling from all the different discussions I’ve had during classes and projects,” she says. “My questions led to them to consider multiple angles rather than one simple, clear answer.”
Following the workshops, seven businesses were selected to present seven-minute pitches to a panel of judges from WPFSI, Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation and other businesses. The winning businesses from the December pitch session, hosted by business incubator space Venture Café Philadelphia, were: Westview Early Learning Academy, a childcare business in Upper Darby, and The T.L. Hospitality Group, a tourism and lodging business in Philadelphia.
Lola Oladapo, co-owner of The T.L. Hospitality Group, valued her consultations with the LeBow students as she worked on turning a side project — renting space in her West Philadelphia home through Airbnb — into a full-fledged business.
“They helped me identify my mission and my vision and what type of business I was running, and we drilled down on the problems I was solving as a businessperson,” Oladapo says. “I really didn’t have that before the program, and they helped me to do that.”
The funded businesses will receive ongoing support and coaching from WPFSI and Drexel’s Close School of Entrepreneurship.