PEORIA (WEEK) -- Students at Bradley University's Turner Center for Entrepreneurship could help more than 300 small businesses improve their online presence.
The university's Small Business Development Center received funds through the Federal CARES Act.
In addition, Peoria's Gilmore Foundation awarded the program an extra $10,000 in support.
They'll use the money to help restaurants and retail businesses around town increase sales through e-commerce.
Turner Center director Jim Foley says the program can benefit in the long term.
"This is not just a COVID-19 issue," Foley said. "This is about making our businesses stronger and more resilient, post-COVID-19."
One such client is Dunlap resident Celeste Restrepo, who opened her shop "Creative Soul" in 2019 to showcase local artists and make a better connection with the community.
She is now hoping to expand her market with the help of the program.
"Originally when I started this, part of my brand was to have interactions here and with the artists," Restrepo said. "Obviously with COVID, we can't really do that as much. That's why e-commerce is really going to be critical."
After analyzing hundreds of businesses throughout Central Illinois, students in the program found most could benefit by expanding from the brick-and-mortar storefront.
"A lot of them have been running a lot of old systems," Bradley junior Maxwell Englert said. "And some don't even have any online website or any online presence at all."
Foley says it's not only an opportunity for businesses, but also for the students to learn more about business growth and development as they prepare to graduate.
"I'm excited to be apart of this team because it will provide me with the different skills and real life experience that I've been learning in the classroom," Bradley senior Patricia Guerrero said.
Foley says they'll continue to track the progress of each business while noting improvement.
It's free to apply for the program. For more information on how it could benefit your business, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 309-677-2992.