Supporting Small Business Through Entrepreneurship and Innovation

by Matilda Tavares, Office of Development Communications

“Our students are the heart and soul of the USF community. It is important that they see themselves as essential contributors to our economic ecosystem,” says Dr. Gleb Nikitenko EdD ’10, Faculty and Director of the Master of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Program and the new Venture Center. Nikitenko has dedicated nearly 20 years to connecting USF students with internships and job opportunities across the Bay Area. He believes that in order for students to fully understand the intricacies of the business world, they need to be fully immersed within it.

With a focus on experiential education, Nikitenko encourages his students to engage with the small community of businesses near the USF campus. When the opportunity to connect his undergraduate students enrolled in the Entrepreneurship Practicum with the Greater Geary Merchant Association (GGBMA) came about, Nikitenko creatively found ways to boost the association and its merchants all while providing students an innovative and immersive entrepreneurship experience. The partnership with the GGGBA resulted in two major student-lead projects — coordinating the associations’ award luncheon and developing its online marketplace. 

A Partnership to Commemorate 

Students got to work right away in the Fall of 2019 planning the GGBMA’s 73rd Annual Award Luncheon held at Hotel Kabuki in San Francisco’s Japantown. Kayla Vergara ’20 led the charge by coordinating marketing, event programming, and guest registration. Vergara also recruited and managed the many USF student volunteers that staffed the event. 

During the event, the partnership between the GGBMA and USF was recognized by Mayor London Breed and U.S. Representative Jackie Speier, sharing their support and excitement in seeing USF students active in the local business community. Vergara also received recognition as an up and coming young business professional, with a total of eight awards. The event not only highlighted the professionalism and maturity of USF students but also gave them an insight into the challenges and resiliency of local businesses. Nikitenko hopes to collaborate on the awards luncheon for years to come as a way to revitalize the small business community, particularly after hardships endured during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Building an Online Marketplace

For their second project, students began collecting data, writing profiles, and identifying resources to launch the GGBMA’s web-based marketplace where local businesses can host profiles, advertise promotions, and fulfill online orders. “Consider it an Amazon meets NextDoor — it’s a way for local residents to feel more connected to the businesses around them,” says Nikitenko. 

In the process of developing the marketplace, students in the course connected the GGBMA with the San Francisco-based start-up iWallet, providing all GGBMA merchants a payment processing system that allows customers to transfer money from their bank accounts directly to merchants, removing the financial burden of credit card transaction fees. 

While still in development, the current iteration of the marketplace and the hard work students have contributed to it thus far will help businesses stay afloat amidst the pandemic by providing a collective space to feature their services and share their personal stories.

Planning for the Future

With sights set on the future, the USF Entrepreneurship and Innovation program intends to expand its involvement with the GGBMA through a student-staffed business and planning department that will directly support the association’s efforts. 

Nikitenko believes this natural inclination to support the greater community sets USF programs and students apart from others. “Entrepreneurship is in the Jesuit DNA. It is a multi-disciplined and multifaceted subject and this is where cura personalis comes at the forefront,” says Nikitenko. “We have to educate the entire person, by teaching business theory, analytics, innovation, but at the same time creating opportunities for students to learn within communities, the government and, public and private companies. Students leave USF with educated hearts, minds, and souls.” 

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Contact Diana Johnston, Director of Development, to learn more.