From Covid Fellows Came a Community: Introducing Covalent
Welcome to a new era for Covid Fellows.
The same program born out of a global health crisis and a desire to inspire confidence within the local business community enters its second iteration. We’re proud of our past, focused on our future and will continue to build long-lasting relationships between students, mentors and businesses.
We are Covalent.
The harsh impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic created a litany of problems for students and businesses alike. The internship opportunities disappeared. Consumers stayed at home. It created an environment in which many people needed to be reactionary and determine a Plan B on the fly.
Co-founders Alex Littleton and Walker Post saw an opportunity to create meaningful change for those folks. They worked tirelessly to develop a network of young professionals and experienced mentors passionate about community involvement and wanting to help preserve small business throughout Illinois.
“We looked around and saw family businesses we’ve known all our lives closing down for good,” Littleton said. “We were losing the soul of neighborhoods. Covalent offers students and recent graduates a unique way to contribute to their communities with a strong return on investment.”
Covalent fostered a network of more than 350 individuals from a diverse range of racial backgrounds, ethnicities, religions and sexual orientations who are dedicated to tackling the most-pressing needs of small businesses during these challenging times and beyond.
“Covalent trains fellows to be confident, client-facing problem-solvers at an age when their peers often aren’t getting that exposure,” Post said. “This, in turn, is allowing them to deliver high-quality solutions to the small businesses that are at the core of our communities.”
One such example of the impact of the partnership between fellows and businesses is The Hideout, a longtime fixture in Chicago’s bar and music scene which closed its doors even prior to the state’s shelter-in-place order. Fellows worked alongside management to create innovative ways to connect with regulars — personalized email marketing, Instagram contests and A/B testing, among others.
“There are people who would come in every single week and the problem we had that needed to be solved during the pandemic was figuring out how to connect meaningfully with our community,” Alice Blander, director of operations at The Hideout, said. “The fellows were very quick to understand the ethos of The Hideout and understood what we needed to do to maintain the audience we already had.”
Thanks, in part, to the contributions and creativity of the fellows who helped The Hideout preserve its audience, the venue took a crucial next step and decided to make a full-time move to online programming.
“The fellows were awesome,” Blander said. “They were so good at finding different ways to provide us with great value and great service. We’re very grateful to them.”
The Hideout is just one of nearly 70 local businesses which have received support from Covalent. In excess of $250,000 in savings has been generated by Covalent throughout the pandemic in the form of email marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), web development, brand strategy and social strategy.
“I think being able to show local businesses there is still a way of moving forward and a way they can make impact within their communities was important and empowering,” Nicoline Hansen, a former Covalent fellow and incoming marketing intern at Kraft Heinz, said. “It might look a little different right now, but it’s definitely still possible for them to carry out that mission.”
Hansen, an international student from Denmark who completed two sessions as a fellow, appreciated the level of trust ingrained within the program. The experiential and learn-by-doing approach to projects is why Covalent thrives and maintains its reputation as a leader in workforce initiatives.
“It was an awesome experience because I had full control and the creative power to do what I thought would add the most value,” Hansen said. “I never felt lost. I didn’t feel like I couldn’t navigate what I was doing. I think (the program) did a good job laying down the foundation and gave us all the resources we needed to navigate the projects.”
The vast amount of resources Covalent offers its fellows include weekly meetings with mentors where they discuss progress on their projects and career development. Pooja Patel, a two-time mentor, explained how she applied some of her experiences at Covalent to her full-time role as an analyst for Claro Healthcare.
“Something I realized once I started the first cohort was that it actually helped me a lot in terms of being able to teach someone, communicate and coordinate,” Patel said. “You’re communicating with people you’ve never worked with or met in-person and we’ve all gotten used to that over the past year, but getting to be that middle person between the business and fellow was helpful.”
Ultimately, we want Covalent to be a resource and an experience. Covalent is a professional-development path for students, a model of support for small businesses and a community-driven, networking opportunity for mentors. We want to leave a lasting legacy on students and small-business landscape, and look forward to our continued growth.
We’re excited to share Covalent with the community and extend our mission of helping businesses prepare, navigate and prosper in a digital-first world.
Let’s get started.