Entrepreneurship students at Western Kentucky University are acting as consultants to downtown businesses in an effort to help revitalize the area.

The project is part of the capstone course for the entrepreneurship program, said Wil Clouse, executive director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and the Mattie Newman Ford Professor of Entrepreneurship.

Students in Clouse's Entrepreneurship 496 class observed downtown businesses to get an idea of their products and services, Clouse said. Then they divided into teams to develop consulting groups and chose a business to work with. Each group is working on a plan that will help grow the business and drive traffic downtown.

The project helps students learn how to read organizations and develop marketing strategies, Clouse said.

"This experience connects the students with authentic real-life situations, unlike textbook learning," Clouse said. "It just so happens that our world is downtown Bowling Green."

Seniors Madison Harris of Bowling Green and Rachel Meckstroth of Cincinnati are in a group that's working with Dollar Brothers Shoe Co.

They studied the flow of traffic in and out of the store and saw that the store was suffering because of bigger, newer chain stores, Harris said.

"A lot of (the downtown businesses) are starting to hurt more and more," he said. "None of the store owners want to see their stores go, but it's dwindling."

Meckstroth said the group is still developing their strategy, but they plan to use social media to help bring in more customers.

The project has shown her that there's a lot more to business than just making sales, she said. Marketing is also a big part of it.

"It kind of gives us a real-world example," Meckstroth said.

The project is based on the case study "The Santa Fe Effect," which Clouse co-authored. The study examined how to increase visitors to downtown businesses in Santa Fe, N.M., after the interstate moved traffic to the outskirts of the city, Clouse said.

Like Santa Fe, downtown Bowling Green also lost a lot of traffic when the area around the interstate was built up, so the project is a good fit here, he said.

Between the two sections of the course, there are nine groups of four to five students each working with local businesses, Clouse said. At the end of the project, students will present a PowerPoint presentation and write a 20- to 30-page paper on their findings and strategies.

Justine Bouzon, a junior from Saint-Etienne, France, who is studying at WKU this year, is part of a group working with John Norman McDonald Photography.

Bouzon said the photographer just bought the shop six months ago, so her group is recommending ways to use Facebook to gain clients.

She's worked on real-life cases like this in France, where she's majoring in international business, she said.

"I like to work on real cases," Bouzon said. "It's much better than doing anything else in class."

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