Skip to contents
Austin, Garfield Park, North Lawndale

UIC Students Get Hands-On Consulting Experience While Helping West Side Business: ‘Feeding Two Birds With One Seed’

The free consulting service is part of a pitch competition organized by a West Side nonprofit.

Businesses and buildings along 71st Street in Chicago's South Shore neighborhood on January 4, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
  • Credibility:

AUSTIN — Graduate students at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s business school are giving free consulting service to a West Side business.

The free business advice is part of a consulting competition organized by Earth’s Remedies, a nonprofit led by two West Side siblings who mobilized last summer to give $40,000 in grants to local businesses hit by the pandemic and the social unrest.

Teams of grad students will compete against each other to develop the best business strategies and consulting solutions responsive to the specific needs of Austin entrepreneur Crystal Dyer. Dyer is the founder of Gone Again Travels, which she touts as Chicago’s first and only Black-owned travel agency storefront.

Dyer wants the student consultants to help her business pivot to adjust to people’s new travel habits during the pandemic.

“With COVID, I had to really look at how to maximize my business coming out of it,” Dyer said.

The competition will also help Dyer plan a new business model for after the pandemic that emphasizes group vacations and different destinations.

“I was doing a lot of Europe,” she said. “Now I’m pivoting to Africa.”

The pitch presentations are open to the public, so West Side residents, entrepreneurs and business owners can learn more about how consulting works and walk away with tips on how they might improve their own businesses.

The grad student teams will present their pitches virtually 9:30 a.m. Feb. 6. Register to watch the presentations on the UIC website.

“This is going to target certain levels of her business and how she can not only improve, but help with her brand awareness, help with her reach, help with different internals going on like marketing, finance, and also how to engage further within the community,” said Charles Pickett, who cofounded Earth’s Remedies with his sister, Mercedes Pickett.

The Pickett siblings developed the consulting competition as a way for UIC to “give their students real-world experience and impact the community,” Mercedes Pickett said. The partnership gives the business school a bigger presence on the West Side, which can create pathways for young people to get interested in business and consider attending the university, Pickett said.

The contest is like a live case-study on how to improve business processes. Previously, the students were just using textbook case studies, which helps the students learn but doesn’t have an impact on the community, Mercedes Pickett said. 

“We’re feeding two birds with one seed,” she said.

Earth’s Remedies did a pilot of the consulting contest with UIC in October, where students competed to pitch business strategies for how the Picketts could improve their nonprofit. The student’s recommendations helped Earth’s Remedies improve its social media messaging, navigate tax exemptions and make a plan for establishing a brick-and-mortar location.

“All the steps they informed us about, we are implementing throughout this year,” Mercedes Pickett said.

The siblings are working with UIC to replicate this model of community engagement so many other businesses on the West Side can benefit.

“It won’t just stop here,” Charles Pickett said. “The best thing about this is we’re going to connect with professors to potentially do live case studies of other small businesses, Black and Brown, within the West Side of Chicago, and they can participate within these case studies and different classes.”

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.

Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.

Already subscribe? Click here to support Block Club with a tax-deductible donation.