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SIFE Students Help Military Veterans Establish Business Web Sites

By: Diane Stirling
(315) 443-8975

 
  iSchool student Matthew Gartner and members of the SU chapter of SIFE create websites for veterans.
A number of Syracuse University students are fulfilling their organization’s “a head for business, a heart for the world” mission by helping to create web sites for the business ventures of U.S. Military veterans in the SU Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV) program. 

Members of SU’s chapter of Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) took on the projects when Mike Haynie, director of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at SU, asked if those skill sets were in SIFE’s repertoire. The effort has proven so popular that SIFE is recruiting additional student volunteers to work with a waiting list of veterans, according to chapter president Matthew Gartner. “This is kind of a pilot program, but this year it has expanded faster than expected,” he explained.

SIFE is a global, non-profit organization with 1,600 chapters on campuses in 40 countries. It offers students opportunities to develop leadership, teamwork and communication skills through learning, practicing and teaching the principles of free enterprise to improve peoples’ standards of living. The Syracuse University chapter was formed in 2006.

This semester, about 11 students from the iSchool and other SU schools have been working with a range of EBV clients, said Gartner, a dual major in Entrepreneurship and Emerging Enterprises (EEE) at SU’s Whitman School and in Information Management & Technology (IMT) at the School of Information Studies. Students contribute design, development and programming skills and business advice and technical assistance. To expand its services, SIFE also is seeking volunteers to help clients use social media in their ventures.  

For many veterans, a web site fulfills a missing piece in their business plan, Gartner explained. While some clients have an existing site and it only needs freshening, others must start from scratch. He noted that the diversity of projects provides an excellent avenue for students to gain experience, sharpen skills and learn to work with real-world clients in a business situation.

Koby Brandstein, also a dual EEE/IMT major and a web site volunteer, acknowledges that the program benefits volunteers as well as clients. Most of the veterans are not located locally, so students learn how to work at a distance while maintaining a personal interaction. That client service focus includes communicating with a different demographic segment than their own, and becoming sensitive to working with people with disabilities, Brandstein said. He added that volunteers also gain insights from weekly review sessions, where they brainstorm, offer critiques and problem-solve as a group on project issues. 

The experience has helped Brandstein boost his design skills and apply business lessons in project and account management, he said. “I think it’s a direct application of what we learn in the classroom to real world experiences. There’s more accountability here than simply in a class. You’re not focused on getting an A here; success is defined in different ways. Being able to adapt to different clients in different situations with different needs also is important.”

From his perspective, Gartner observed, “Clients are veterans and even disabled veterans, so this isn’t a like a class project. If your client’s business’s is depending on this, you’re motivated to do it, and having a personal connection also gives me an emotional connection to the work.”

The Whitman EBV and IMVF programs, along with the content development platform Squarespace, Inc. and domain hosting service Volusion deserve credit for making the web sites possible at about 75 per cent of the actual cost, according to Gartner. The Whitman School pays half the cost of establishing the site. The companies, as a goodwill gesture, both provide free services for the first year for each veteran business. The combined contributions lower the cost of entrée to a web-based business to an affordable level of about $20 a month. “We couldn’t have done this project without them,” Gartner noted.

To volunteer, contact Matt at: mattgartner@gmail.com

For more information, see SIFE’s website at: http://susife.org or follow on Twitter: @SUSIFE.

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