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LENDing a Hand

Student entrepreneurs help fill vital needs during the pandemic.

Lending a hand

By Clare Milliken
Fall 2020

An organization run by Northwestern students is working hard to keep Evanston’s small business owners afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic. Helped by a $100,000 contribution from the city of Evanston, Lending for Evanston and Northwestern Development (LEND) is offering no-interest loans of up to $5,000 to entrepreneurs hit hard by the crisis (see “LENDing a Hand to Local Businesses”).

The group is also helping small businesses identify additional relief programs and transition their services to online platforms. LEND alumni who now work in consulting are offering their services pro bono.

This effort is an extension of the work LEND has been doing since 2010, offering two-year, low-interest loans of up to $10,000 to Evanston’s fledging small businesses.

LEND is one of several ways that Northwestern students are addressing needs in response to the pandemic. 

Started by Northwestern senior Matthew Zients ’20 and his two younger brothers, Connect & Care links individuals with remote volunteer opportunities around the world. After completing a questionnaire, which asks volunteers to select the causes they care about and the skills they would like to offer, Zients and his team match volunteers with one of their nonprofit partners.

Since March, Connect & Care has matched more than 50 students with remote volunteer opportunities.

Three lifelong friends have teamed up to create SocraTeach, a free, peer-to-peer remote learning app that lets users teach and learn from one another in live tutoring sessions. Users upload pictures of problems they’re struggling with, and other users swipe right if they know how to solve those problems. Learners and teachers who “match” can then connect via chat and audio calls within the app.

Co-creators Bharat Rao ’20, Scott Gregus ’19, a first-year student at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, and recent Massachusetts Institute of Technology grad Grant Gregus say the app is intended to complement both traditional learning environments and remote education. Robert McBride ’88, superintendent of Lockport (Ill.) Township High School District 205, is helping the team integrate the app into the classroom experience.

Environmental engineering doctoral candidate Yechan Won developed a self-cleaning film that could be used on medical devices in hospitals. Developed in concert with Baxter International and under the guidance of Kimberly Gray ’78, chair of civil and environmental engineering, this film resists microorganisms and can be disinfected under ultraviolet light. Won hopes to refine the film so that it can also be disinfected under LED light.

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