UW News

May 31, 2000

Students help inner-city businesses cross ‘Digital Divide’

More than 80 University of Washington business students have narrowed – at least slightly – the technology gap known as the Digital Divide by helping Seattle’s inner-city small-business owners compete in the wired world.

The students recently built eight sophisticated Web sites and online customer-service systems for firms in such neighborhoods as the Central Area, Rainier Valley and Chinatown/International District.

Their successes will be celebrated Friday at the UW Business and Economic Development program’s fifth annual Report to the Community Luncheon at Mount Zion Baptist Church, the region’s largest annual gathering on inner-city business development. More than 150 people will attend.

Among them will be students in the program who spent spring quarter building Web sites, such as www.FourSeasRestaurant.com, for several small local companies. Also there will be the students who developed a portal site for the Chinatown/International District Business Improvement Area, www.SeattleChinatown.org, that provides information on more than 300 neighborhood firms.

Students in the program also created an e-commerce site for a jewelry store and worked with an insurance and mortgage company to provide online customer service.

The Business and Economic Development Program, an arm of the UW Business School, has assisted more than 75 such business owners since 1995 while providing 225 business students with an enhanced learning experience.

This year, the program increased its emphasis on technology, a focus of the entire UW Business School under new Dean Yash Gupta.

“This program has made significant strides,” said Gupta, who will deliver the luncheon’s keynote address. “Our focus as a school on technology is particularly relevant to the Business and Economic Development Program.”

That’s because, as the U.S. Commerce Department recently reported, the technological gap within America is growing, as black, Hispanic, low-income and central city households fall further behind in computer ownership and Internet use. At the same time, minority owned firms find their growth hampered by a lack of access to technical assistance, capital and technology, said Michael Verchot, director of the UW Business and Economic Development program.

To help level the playing field, Verchot’s program responds to requests from small business owners. Undergraduate business students work with mentors from the Seattle Rotary Club as well as UW faculty. An advisory board is co-chaired by Louis Watanabe, president of White Paw Publishing, and George Northcroft, treasury manager of Nordstrom.

Also speaking at the luncheon will be Quintard Taylor, the UW’s Scott and Dorothy Bullitt Professor of American History, who is considered the leading historian on African Americans in the American West.
The luncheon will take place June 2 from noon to 1:30 p.m. at Mount Zion Baptist Church, 1639 19th Ave. For more information, or to attend, contact Verchot at (206) 543-9327 or mverchot@u.washington.edu.