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Fridays from the Frontline: Stern Students Help Small Businesses in NYC During the Pandemic

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Come pandemic or citywide shutdown, NYU Stern MBA students still find ways to help their communities. Read on for Yilin Hai’s (Stern MBA ’21) account of Stern Works: Serve NYC.

Stern Students Help Small Businesses in NYC During the Pandemic

Yilin Hai, NYU Stern School of Business, MBA ’21

By Yilin Hai, NYU Stern School of Business (MBA ’21)

Stepping Out and Taking the Chance

This spring, as the coronavirus pandemic began to impact the U.S., including New York City where the streets outside of my apartment emptied as shelter in place orders were implemented, I found myself wondering if there was anything I could do to help.

Soon I was notified that my summer internship was postponed, which would leave me one month of free time. As I was actively looking for opportunities to use this time meaningfully, Stern’s Office of Career Development and Office of Student Engagement announced SternWorks, a new initiative aimed at connecting MBAs with vital small businesses in need of help to share their skills. One part of the new initiative was SternWorks: Serve NYC, which focused on volunteer opportunities to give back to the NYC community. A project with the NYC Department of Small Business Services (SBS) stood out to me because it would be not only a learning experience, but also an opportunity to directly support the community during these unprecedented times. So I applied for it and joined the program.

Highlights of the Summer: PPP Loan and More

I worked in the SBS Capital Access team along with other volunteers from Stern to connect small businesses in NYC to various funding options.

We had a one-week training to get an overview of SBS and understand how the Capital Access team provides funds, connects businesses to funds, and shares advice to help the local businesses thrive. As summer volunteers, we were tasked with supporting the growing demand of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan forgiveness and crowd-funding applications.

Texts from NYC offering help to small business owners

Every week, I conducted a Zoom webinar regarding PPP loan application for business owners located in Queens, explaining the eligibility criteria for the PPP loan forgiveness, the calculation of forgiveness amount, and the documents required along with the application. After the webinar, business owners could register for a one-on-one session with me to get more specific instructions on their applications. In the meantime, we would reach out to those business owners who had created a profile in the SBS website but never finished an application, in order to understand if they were experiencing any difficulties and how we could help.

While everyone had heard in the news that small businesses were the most impacted, it was really through working in this program that I got the chance to take a close look at the effect of the pandemic on various local businesses. For example, an owner of two bars and one restaurant, which were shut down since mid-March, needed money to reopen for takeout and delivery, and a woman who ran a babysitting business was trying to get funds, although she was not sure if she could reopen her business because parents were especially worried about bringing people in contact with their babies.

It also came to our attention from the conversation with the business owners that sometimes PPP loans might not be the best choice. In order to qualify for the PPP loan forgiveness, a certain percentage of the loan must be used toward payroll costs, and the forgiveness can be reduced if headcount declines; however, given the current predicaments, some businesses were already struggling to meet basic rent and utility payments and could not afford to hire employees. Therefore, they were less likely to eligible for the forgiveness. With that in mind, we reached out to SBS and learned some alternative financing sources such as SBA debt relief and TruFund, which offers grants and low-interest loans for women- and minority-owned businesses. We also collaborated with the financing experts in different Business Solution Centers of SBS to help address the various concerns from business owners.

The City is our Campus: Welcome Back NYC!

Outdoor dining in the city

Working at SBS was really a unique experience in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. As an international student who just moved to NYC last year, I definitely learned a lot more about the city and the people living here, who have made the city so attractive. Meanwhile, I had a great time collaborating with the team not only to experience many new things that I would not have encountered during normal times, but also to apply the business knowledge I obtained at Stern to make active contributions to the local community.

After months of “New York on pause,” it’s nice to see the city is now returning back to normal, or at least some form of normalcy. Dining areas have been established on the streets to cope with the guidance of outdoor dining, and the subways are no longer empty.

The pandemic will be a generation-defining event, and I’m proud that I have contributed my share to fight it and bring businesses back. We struggle together even if we are distanced, and that allows us to overcome the challenge.

Lauren Wakal
Lauren Wakal has been covering the MBA admissions space for more than a decade, from in-depth business school profiles to weekly breaking news and more.