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Starting and running a small business is challenging in many ways. Entrepreneurs and small business often lack the support and expertise needed to bring ideas to life or to market them effectively. Auburn University Outreach’s Government and Economic Development Institute, or GEDI, through an Economic Development Agency University Center grant, is offering creative support services such as branding, product packaging and prototype development to student and community startups. In addition to providing much needed services to the startup businesses, GEDI is employing students to assist and get real world experience while they are in college.

Brandon Stephens is a senior in the College of Architecture, Design and Construction majoring in industrial design. He is also a student design assistant for GEDI working out of the New Venture Accelerator in Auburn’s Research Park. In this space he works side-by-side with entrepreneurs, but he also works virtually with small businesses all over the state. “The process starts with entrepreneurs submitting an online form that details their needs,” Stephens explained. “I then reach out to them to set up a meeting, either in person or virtually, to get more information and discuss ideas”. After the initial meeting, Stephens gets to work bringing ideas to life. Whether he is designing a logo, a product label or even the user interface of an app, he focuses on the end goal of helping the business achieve success.

Stephens is managing a full class load and working 20 hours a week for GEDI. Currently, he has seven projects in development for entrepreneurs and start-up businesses. “It’s a busy schedule and I work hard to manage expectations of clients and get the jobs done. Communication is key. I’m always giving them updates,” Stephens said. Although his schedule may be more hectic than some students, Stephens is glad to make connections and gain experience. “The work encourages me as a designer to use every tool at my disposal. It’s easy to get stuck using the same programs and skill sets in the classroom. Working with these startup businesses is increasing my knowledge and experience, and the entrepreneurs have been pleased with the work we are doing for them,” Stephens said.

“GEDI provides these services to small businesses and entrepreneurs through a Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration, or EDA, University Center grant. Auburn’s EDA University Center program is a partnership among the Government and Economic Development Institute, The Harbert College of Business and the Office of External Engagement. “Our cross-disciplinary approach enables the center to broaden its mission and strengthen Alabama’s entrepreneurship ecosystem,” said David Mixson, GEDI’s Associate Director and EDA University Center Director.

For more information on Auburn’s EDA University Center, contact David Mixson at (334)844-4704 or visit www.auburn.edu/gedi.