COVID-19 crisis deals financial blow to nonprofit Student Holdings


(Stephen Council/Daily Senior Staffer) Student Holdings’ office in October. The independent nonprofit will have to pay rent, even as the off-campus space sits unused this spring.

Stephen Council, Reporter

Student Holdings, the student-run nonprofit holdings company that manages three Northwestern and Evanston businesses, had one of its best months ever in February, CEO Henry Forcier said.

Then, suddenly, the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered campus and transformed the Evanston economic landscape.

As Spring Quarter begins, Forcier’s team is scattered across the globe, rendering recently thriving businesses within Student Holdings inoperable. The group, which runs RezEssentials, NU|Tutors and InkTank, has been forced to work remotely while facing steep financial repercussions of the crisis.

“The biggest challenge is balancing what is a really tough situation for a lot of people, and what is a really tough situation for our business,” the Weinberg junior said.

All of Student Holdings’ businesses are affected by the crisis, he noted. InkTank, the company’s custom apparel business, will likely see demand fall, Forcier said, as student groups that might typically order merchandise stop meeting. Meanwhile, NU|Tutors, Student Holdings’ oldest company, will lose its main chunk of revenue without in-person tutoring.

RezEssentials, which rented around 100 mini-fridges to students in the fall, now has to find a way to get their assets back when most students won’t be returning to their dorm rooms. Without operational dry cleaners or many students on campus with dirty laundry, the RezEssentials team has halted its RezLaundry service and decided to refund students the $299 fee as credit for the upcoming Fall Quarter.

Student Holdings’ off-campus office space will also go unused this quarter, and while Forcier said the nonprofit has the cash to survive and cover rent, he wants to keep the company active where it can be. After February’s success, the Forcier said he felt like the team was building momentum. And he’s hopeful, he said, that Student Holdings can grow NU|Tutors’ online presence during the crisis while the holdings company’s other revenue streams are blocked.

NU|Tutors hires Northwestern students and connects them with clients, often high school students, in the Evanston area, providing in-person or online tutoring depending on the clients’ preferences. Weinberg junior Bryant Wu, who leads the service, said his team is trying to maintain normalcy where it can.

“With all the other businesses taking a massive hit, a lot of the burden of staying alive is going to fall to NU|Tutors, just because as long as we’re off campus this is the thing that’s going to function the least different from everything else,” Wu said.

He said that this moment — with in-person schooling closed across Illinois — is a chance to see how NU|Tutors can perform in the online tutoring market. Online tutoring is a service they’ve struggled to find a demand for in the past, Wu said, adding that companies like Varsity Tutors have more brand recognition.

Carina Ramos, NU|Tutors’ director of operations, said that she had been receiving many requests for tutors in recent months, but that demand from clients has dropped since the crisis began. The McCormick sophomore added that no one is sure how online school work will look at a large scale yet.

While the productivity app Slack has made remote communication easier, connecting across multiple time zones is still proving to be a challenge. Leaders across the holdings company said they recognize the COVID-19 crisis is affecting all students differently and will accommodate wherever possible.

Communication junior Emily Weintraub, RezEssentials’ general manager, said she’s trying to be cognizant of not pushing her team too hard and making sure they prioritize what matters to them. While there are struggles, she said the core educational mission of Student Holdings is being met: her team is experiencing what it’s like to deal with uncertainty and challenge.

“We’re still surviving and making progress, and I think it’s definitely really important,” Weintraub said. “We’re trying to give the members real-world experiences and I don’t know what’s more real-world than this.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @stephencouncil

Related Stories:
Student Holdings, after $80,000 in summer revenue, rolls into new school year