Student organization helps the business community

March 6, 2012

By Tim Belter ‘13

Business classes can teach all the technical skills in the world, but many companies are looking for students who have also focused on improving their community. Through Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE), Bradley students are doing exactly that for Peoria.

“SIFE is a social-entrepreneurial organization,” said Dr. Eden Blair, Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship and the faculty advisor to SIFE. “It’s designed to help students bring out the socially-positive aspects of business.”

For their first major project, SIFE has been working with Fiber Universe, a local knitting and yarn store. SIFE has been teaching the two owners, who have no business backgrounds of their own, the necessary skills to build a business around what they love.

“Fiber Universe allows women to come together, knit and form a community of people with lots of different interests,” said Dr. Blair. “They also work with local farmers for the fiber they use to spin yarn.”

The work has earned the group the attention of major businesses. The group has received the Wal-Mart Women’s Economic Empowerment Grant and HSBC Bank Financial Literacy Grant.

The students have helped the owners of Fiber Universe with financial basics and marketing, and helped their web presence through search engine optimization. By applying their classroom knowledge in real business environments, the students are becoming better prepared for their own careers.

“By helping teach others these business concepts, it helps the students learn,” said Dr. Blair. “You really know the information if you can teach it to someone else.”

SIFE provides plenty of connections to help students start their careers. Businesses are looking for students with experience in socially-beneficial business, and there are internships that are available only to SIFE students. Students also gain experiences that can help them achieve their own ambitions.

“Working with Fiber Universe has actually made me realize that my goal to open my own store is very obtainable,” said junior Kelly Heisler, an entrepreneurship major and project leader for the Wal-Mart Women’s Economic Empowerment Grant. “It has made me want to pursue it even more.”

“SIFE members tend to not only be well-trained, but they think beyond the basic 9-to-5 job to think, ‘What kind of social impact does this have?’ It’s a great opportunity for students to get access to these careers,” said Dr. Blair. “They can work with non-profits, social businesses and for-profit businesses in ways that help improve social impact.”

The organization has ten members currently and accepts members from any major.

“We’re working to recruit students from all over campus to join us,” said Dr. Blair. “It can teach non-business students some real business skills.”

The group is still building itself up, but it already looks forward to an ambitious future.

“Since we are still in the start-up stage of the organization, we are focusing on smaller projects at first,” said Heisler. “We are now looking to pick up a larger project that will last a few years.”