Customers waiting outside of The Butcher's Son.
Customers waiting outside for food orders from vegan restaurant The Butcher’s Son. Photo credit: Natasha Payés.

When shelter-in-place orders went into effect for the City of Berkeley in mid-March, Vicky Lin, BS 22, thought the impact on local businesses would be temporary.

But as COVID-19 cases began to rise and the city extended restrictions well into May, Lin watched in sadness as some of her favorite restaurants, shops, and hangouts struggled and Daiso, a Japanese general goods store she visited weekly, closed permanently. “I just couldn’t believe it,” she said.

With so many small businesses struggling to remain open amid the pandemic, Lin quickly jumped into action. She teamed up with friends Kelly Pan, BS 22, Amy Cha and Amber Chen, both BA 22 (Econ), and together they founded Outhrive, an organization that offers free marketing and consulting services to small businesses impacted by the pandemic.

What seemed like a simple COVID-19 relief summer project quickly morphed into something much bigger. Since June, Outhrive has helped nearly two dozen minority- and family-owned, Bay Area businesses with a variety of projects ranging from website design to search engine optimization (SEO) fixes to social media upgrades.

Social media posts and Slack messages made it easy for the group to spread the word about Outhrive. By May, the group recruited 130 high school and college students, as well as working professionals from around the world to help with their cause. 

Finding businesses in need of help wasn’t too difficult either. Cha, Chen, and Lin had worked as consulting project managers for student clubs imagiCal and Pi Sigma Epsilon and knew how to acquire clients. After cold calling and emailing nearly 200 local businesses, the group came up with a list of shops and restaurants eager to receive Outhrive’s help.

Some success stories include redesigning The Butcher’s Son website, making it easier for customers to order online; recommending outdoor classes for fitness boutique X°Core Studio; and creating a TikTok account to increase community engagement and designing an online store for Clues and Gumshoes.

Elaine Ko, a Berkeley alumna and co-founder of X°Core Studio, said Outhrive exceeded her expectations. “I really hope that they help a lot more businesses,” said Ko, whose studio now has a wait list for its bi-weekly outdoor classes. “They listened to our needs and gave us that extra push to take things across the finish line.”

Portraits of Amy Cha, Vicky Lin, Amber Chen, and Kelly Pan.
Four undergrads founded Outhrive, an organization that offers free marketing and consulting services to small businesses impacted by the pandemic. From left to right, top to bottom: Amy Cha, Vicky Lin, Amber Chen, and Kelly Pan.

Creating Outhrive was deeply personal for the students, who said they grew up eating and shopping at mom and pop businesses that are now at risk.

“When I was young, my family and I would go to Japantown in San Francisco and eat at San Wang Restaurant almost every weekend,” Cha said. “When I saw that the pandemic was impacting the businesses that my family and I grew to love, I knew that I had to give back.”

Chen agreed. “Going to Tawainese restaurants was an integral part of my upbringing,” said the Los Angeles native.

Pan said she empathized with many of Berkeley’s small business owners. Her parents are small business owners and they’ve run an imprinting business in Rancho Cucamonga for 20 years. And Lin wanted to contribute to COVID-19 relief efforts given that the first-known outbreak started in her hometown, Wuhan, she said. 

Although the summer has officially ended, Outhrive’s founders have no plans of pressing the pause button. They’ve already organized teams to help another 10 businesses this fall. There are talks of turning Outhrive into a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, said Pan. But for now, “all we want to do is just help out in any way that we can,” she said.

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