In 2019, Cambridge-based student Daniel Wang helped a local barber build a website. Since then, he has been interested in connecting students with small businesses in need of support—but hasn’t always known how to put this idea into practice. That changed when the coronavirus outbreak began.
“When the coronavirus crisis hit, that was when I knew small businesses are going to get hit hard, and this would be a great time to help,” he says.
Wang, a sophomore at Buckingham Browne & Nichols School, decided to join forces with other New England-based students to enter the Covid-19 Global Hack-A-Thon—a contest where developers build software that drives social change. Wang’s team included students Luc Gaitskell, Andrew Ferruolo, William Kopans, and Myles Johnson.
The Covid-19 Global Hack-A-Thon, open to both students and professionals, began the week of March 24. In just three days, the team of students built a new website and service based on Wang’s original idea: Covid Biz Link.
Covid Biz Link, now an active service being promoted by Cambridge Local First, is a platform that connects volunteers with small businesses dealing with the effects of the coronavirus.
“Right now, there are so many things that people are taking on as new tasks,” says Theodora Skeadas, executive director of Cambridge Local First. “For business owners, it often is either applying to grants and loans, which can be very complicated and lengthy, or transitioning to online services. … All of these things are new to businesses, and volunteers can assist them with all of them.”
The Covid Biz Link team did not meet in person, instead communicating over applications like Discord, Slack, and Zoom.
“In some ways, working with a group where we couldn’t actively see [each other] face-to-face or interact was difficult,” says Kopans, a sophomore at The Wheeler School in Rhode Island. “By the end, I think we definitely knew each other very well.”
Many of the students already had backgrounds in coding prior to joining the project. The team worked with Bootstrap Studio to create the front-end of the website—or the part of the site that users interact with—and Google Firebase for the back-end, or the server side.
When a user enters the website, they are able to build a profile, either as a business owner or as a volunteer. Businesses may describe services that they need, such as advertising or organizing, while volunteers can list their strengths, like accounting or working with social media. Once a person is registered, the program helps them find volunteers or opportunities by filtering the listings to match specific skill sets or needs. The website is up-and-running, and anyone can register now.
Wang is hoping that Covid Biz Link will support the economy during the spread of the coronavirus, as well as helping individual communities.
“Many professionals, they’re at home and have time to devote to small businesses,” says Wang. “This is not only important for our economy, but for our community as well. We know that there’s going to be a recession. For many small businesses, once you go under, it’s very hard to go back again, even after this whole ordeal ends. So, it’s very important for us at this time to reach out and do what we can.”
Kopans emphasizes that youth have a role to play in responding to the virus that must not be overlooked—with the hack-a-thon being a perfect example of their creativity and positive influence.
“Teens are usually overshadowed when it comes to the impact they’re making,” says Kopans. “We’ve seen an enormous amount of youth movements coming out to combat all sorts of things. Seeing this, it really shows that we’re able to make a difference and enact change in our communities.”
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