Inside the walls of Voltage Fashion & Styles Boutique in Worcester’s Main South neighborhood, Da’Vyana Williams ’24 and Leyla Knight ’24 got to work. The social media-savvy students filled a much-needed gap for owner Laura Perez-Garcia, enhancing her store’s website by publicizing inventory and revamping her Facebook and Instagram pages with fresh content. Meanwhile, Perez-Garcia shared with the students her wisdom from seven years of small-business ownership, which will assist them as they explore their own entrepreneurship opportunities after college.
This educational give-and-take was part of Entrepreneurial Experience, a course designed by School of Management Professor John Dobson that is the culmination of the entrepreneurship and innovation minor. By emulating an “incubator,” or collective workspace, students in the course develop skills like idea generation, collaboration, market testing, and marketing while working directly with established businesses. The learning model feels more like an internship than a traditional class, allowing students to gain valuable hands-on experience before graduation.
“It was a challenge to carve out time and think critically about how to follow Laura’s dream and support it,” says Knight, a media, culture, and the arts major. “It was hectic in a beautiful way.”
Entrepreneurial Experience students consult with local small businesses to create solutions specific to their needs and work week-to-week to implement changes that help drive those solutions.
“The course is a way for Clark students to engage with the local community and show business owners how entrepreneurial tools can improve their ventures,” Dobson says. “Instead of having students do hypothetical business plans, they use their entrepreneurial skills to solve ‘sticky’ or recurring problems.
“The class is a great opportunity for the students to get practical entrepreneurial experience as it gives them a realistic preview and deeper understanding of the challenges faced by small businesses in becoming and staying profitable,” Dobson adds.
Williams and Knight spent the fall semester creating a marketing plan for Perez-Garcia while boosting the store’s online presence and refreshing her social media content.
“Not all small-business owners are in tune with social media and modern marketing. Students can give entrepreneurs an extra hand to master social media,” Perez-Garcia says. “They’ve just been phenomenal. This program is beneficial to small-business owners and the interaction is a great opportunity for students because it gives them a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s really like to run a small business.”
Knight encouraged Perez-Garcia to be bold and try new things on social platforms.
“I think it’s easy to get caught up in how overwhelming social media can be,” Knight says. “It is such a big task and requires a lot of consistency and creativity.”
Dobson approached Perez-Garcia about the course concept when she was president of the Main South Business Association. She spread the word and jumped at the chance to work with students.
“Seeing the day-to-day tasks of running a business was eye-opening,” Williams says. “Some small-business owners paint a glamorous picture, but I’ve learned that a lot of work, planning, and consistency is required for success.”
Clark’s entrepreneurship minor challenges students to start business ventures. Williams sells beauty products like press-on nails and perfume oils under the brand name “Economically Girly.” She’s tabled at the Clark Collective Pop-Up events and previously sold products on Instagram. It’s a business she’d like to expand after college.
“It’s one thing to experiment with my own business or learn principles, but it’s different when you’re able to work with someone and understand what it means to run the business,” Williams says.
Knight has also been a vendor at Clark Collective Pop-Ups. She restyles clothes by adding painted designs to pants, shoes, and coats. She’s also used the social media and e-commerce company Depop to promote her products.
A psychology major, Williams sees a link between the study of the human psyche and entrepreneurship.
“You have to peek into the consumer’s mind to discover the best way to market to your customers,” she says.
Williams is impressed to see everything Perez-Garcia has accomplished and feels inspired by her tenacity.
“Now I know this is attainable,” she says.