Nov 17, 2020

Designing Business Solutions for Small Businesses Impacted by COVID-19

By Jessica Ahn T'21 and Kate Balderston T’21

"[People] built most nobly when limitations were at their greatest.” – Frank Lloyd Wright

It is no surprise COVID-19 has upended lives and businesses everywhere, even here in the Upper Valley. Much of life today is out of our control, and both people and organizations are facing extreme limitations. However, while counterintuitive, research shows that innovations are birthed not despite constraints but because of them.

In this spirit, graduate students from the Tuck School of Business and the Thayer School of Engineering joined forces this October to participate in the Small Business School Challenge, a 48-hour hackathon serving small and medium sized businesses impacted by COVID-19. Ten teams of Dartmouth graduate students were paired with businesses around the Upper Valley to design solutions to pandemic-driven challenges. Participating small businesses included local favorites such as Tuck Stuff, Dartmouth Co-op, Piecemeal Pies, Juel Modern Apothecary and Killington Vacation Rentals, and other businesses with exciting ventures, like Merry Go Rounds and Quiet Events.

The hard work and dedication of our Dartmouth teams culminated in a pitch competition where an esteemed panel of Tuck School of Business faculty and alumni judges selected the top three Dartmouth teams. These teams earned cash prizes for their local businesses, and the first place team advanced to a national-level final to compete against more than ten other MBA programs.

Here is a high-level sample of the ideas produced by Dartmouth teams:

Business: Still North Books & Bar
Location: Hanover, NH
Output: Three-pronged approach exploring private events, bundling and menu expansion. Other ideas included website updates and social media marketing and sales.

Business: Juel Modern Apothecary
Location: White River Junction, VT
Output: Solutions focused on increasing takeout order quantity, menu optimization, and increasing brand equity.

Business: Piecemeal Pies
Location: White River Junction, VT
Output: Combination of internal and external recommendations ranging from product and distribution extensions to local partnerships and engagements.

Business: Dan & Whit's
Location: Norwich, VT
Output: Ideas on how employees can contribute to operations when unable to come into the store (i.e. online orders, social media, supplier and customer management, etc.

Business: Positive Tracks
Location: Hanover, NH
Output: Proposal to increase brand equity and public relations (advertising, influencers, etc.), increase traditional revenue streams through innovation, and other ancillary solutions.

Business: Tuck Stuff
Location: Hanover, NH
Output: Short-term recommendations included growing email list, membership program, and collaborations with student clubs. Long-term ideas focused on communications, website and logo redesign and new products.


Participants on a zoom call

Ten teams of Tuck and Thayer students applied their classroom knowledge to design solutions for pandemic-driven challenges affecting local businesses.

After an extended deliberation session, the judges awarded first place to Gissell Castellon T’22, Gregory Rivers T’22, and Jonathon Chin T’22 who represented Still North Book & Bar, second place to Ashley Jones T’22, Christine Gregory T’22, and Meghan Egan T’22 who served Dan & Whit’s, and third place to Jehlum Vitasta Pandit (Thayer) and Kavya Narayanan T’22 who helped Positive Tracks.

Thank you to all our Dartmouth student participants and local businesses! This event would not have been possible without you. Thanks also to the Tuck School of Business’ MBA Program Office, the Center for Business, Government and Society, the Center for Entrepreneurship, and the Small Business School Challenge for your support throughout the event.

We believe that partnerships and opportunities, such as the Small Business School Challenge, are a silver lining to the challenging times we live in and can be the inspiration we may need to innovate and create our futures.

Jessica Ahn

Jessica Ahn T’21 is a Forte Fellow, Consortium Liaison, and a Center for Business, Government, and Society Fellow. Over the summer, she interned at IDEO’s Purpose Project and Future Work Design and will going into consulting post-Tuck.



Jessica Ahn

Kate Balderston T’21 is co-chair of Tuck’s Design & Innovation Club, a Career Services mentor, and a Tripod hockey enthusiast. She is passionate about the intersection of design and business, and this past summer she interned with Innosight, an innovation consulting firm.