Small business advice amid COVID-19 pandemic, courtesy of USC Marshall

With many businesses now closed to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, their owners are wondering what resources are available to help them survive. USC Marshall experts are offering assistance.

April 03, 2020 Emily Gersema

The COVID-19 pandemic has already had a seismic effect on the economy, shuttering many businesses and bringing others to the brink of closure.

The USC Marshall School of Business faculty are hoping their expertise can help small businesses and companies in Los Angeles navigate the crisis. Starting Saturday, the school will launch a series of free webinars focused on helping small businesses and companies in the L.A. area and Southern California region.

“This is our academic version of people sewing surgical masks at home or delivering groceries to older people who can’t go out,” said Tom Chang, associate professor of finance and business economics at USC Marshall. “The senior faculty and interim Dean Gareth James got together and we wondered what we could do. We thought maybe we could use our expertise in business and economics, operations research, or other areas of expertise to help.”

This is our academic version of people sewing surgical masks at home.

Tom Chang

The first webinar is focused on explaining the resources available for small businesses amid COVID-19. (Register now for this free webinar.)

Chang and other faculty aim to provide insights into the crisis that will help executives and entrepreneurs understand the political and economic nuances of the situation. The webinars may also give current and future executives and business owners new ideas for helping them withstand the economic fallout.

USC experts realize a need for their business acumen

Tereza Alexandre, the USC Marshall assistant dean for research initiatives, is working with Chang to oversee the webinars, which are open to the public.

Chang said he knows businesses are in dire need of information to make difficult decisions amid the crisis. He and two other USC Marshall professors, Dawn Porter and Sampath Rajagopalan, participated last Wednesday in a Zoom panel organized by Benjamin Wells, a current Executive MBA student at USC Marshall who is also a writer and producer for the Walt Disney Co.

The live Q&A drew more than 120 participants, including alumni, executives and rising executives enrolled in the USC Marshall Executive Master’s in Business Administration program. Anxiety was high.

The participants asked about governments’ responses to the pandemic and how local stay-at-home measures might impact their businesses domestically and supply chains abroad.

“Many businesses desperately want to know how long they can expect the stay-at-home measures to last, as well as whether or not their businesses qualify for any of the $2 trillion stimulus signed by President Donald Trump last week,” Alexandre said.

Now more than ever, small business need guidance, resources

Unable to operate on slim margins, many businesses affected by the economic fallout have laid off workers or furloughed them, hoping they would be permitted to reopen sooner rather than later. Others have shuttered.

Chang said he worries especially for small businesses that don’t have the ability to weather the storm. In particular, “I’m worried about small businesses that rely on now-canceled seasonal events, like the Coachella Music Festival, to make it into the black for the year,” he said.

The federal stimulus package is complex, Alexandre said, and it is clear businesses will need assistance understanding whether they qualify and how they can apply. USC Marshall professors, through the webinars, want to help business leaders determine their eligibility.

“We have a list of several resources to help small businesses,” Alexandre said. “The federal Small Business Administration is launching a series of new initiatives this week. We are on top of that, as well.”

By sharing financial and economic expertise, Chang said he hopes the USC Marshall experts can help small businesses like local restaurants survive.

Future webinars will explain the federal stimulus benefits for workers and small businesses. Others will explain current issues such as the economic tradeoffs that elected officials have had to weigh before enacting social distancing measures to slow the spread of COVID-19.