Business initiative to utilize town-gown relationship

Katie Park and Katie Park

Northwestern and Evanston are narrowing the divide between city and University-this time in the business world.

NU faculty members are working with the Evanston Chamber of Commerce to develop the NU-Evanston Business Exchange, an initiative that connects students and faculty with local businesses.

Patrick Hughes, a chamber board member and Evanston business owner, proposed the idea to the University when he was trying to find out how to hire interns from NU, he said. Hughes and other chamber members have met twice with NU faculty and business proprietors to develop the exchange.

‘The premise is that we could talk better; we could do more together,’ Hughes said. ‘Since we’ve sat down and talked twice, people have made amazing connections.’

Through the exchange, business leaders would be invited to attend events at NU, and students could find internships and projects to work on, said Scott Whitaker, associate director of the Larry and Carol Levy Institute for Entrepreneurial Practice at the Kellogg School of Management.

‘The strong assets of Evanston’s business leaders can be made that much stronger when combined with the assets of the University’s resources and people,’ he said. In addition members of the NU community could bring fresh ideas to Evanston businesses, Whitaker said.

‘Students and professors are really looking at the best practices in several areas of business so business owners can learn the most up-to-date items,’ he said.

Whitaker said in the past Kellogg students have worked with the owner of Hecky’s Barbeque, 1902 Green Bay Road, to develop a business plan.

‘The notion of the exchange is to expand that into several hundred projects all at one time and involving all the schools,’ he said.

Whitaker asked Lucy Millman, assistant director of Weinberg’s Harvey Kapnick Business Institutions Program, to help include undergraduates in the initiative. Millman said she hopes the business exchange will create more opportunities for students.

‘With the economy being so bad right now, I know a lot of my students will be really scrambling to get internships this summer,’ she said. ‘A lot of students aren’t aware that these companies are in their backyards.’

Although Millman said the business exchange is still in its developmental stages, the initiative has already started groups on Facebook and LinkedIn to reach out to and connect members of the city and University. The Facebook group, which was started a week ago, has nearly 100 members, while the LinkedIn group has 70 members.

‘I think it’s a terrific initiative, just to get people talking,’ Millman said.

PartnerData, an Evanston-based online lead generation company, is participating in the exchange. Lisa Henthorn, the company’s director of marketing and human resources, said the company was excited to participate.

‘We’re looking at it as a platform through which we can share resources,’ she said. ‘We’re really looking to gain access to great talent, to expertise and to ideas both within the student population and professor population, as well as among leaders in the business community.’

Hughes said his goal for the initiative is to have 1,000 members by next year, but he said he expects the number to be greater.

‘For me it’s about creating a business climate that’s electric and sustainable and vibrant,’ he said. [email protected]