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Small Businesses Gain Quality Websites, Urban Youth Find Employment with Makeshark

Paying no up front costs for the development of their website probably sounds like a dream for a small business owner, but Makeshark is turning it into a reality. And, training the next generation of developers while they’re at it.

Social enterprise hits the web design world with Dustin Pearce’s Makeshark. Small businesses get professional websites, urban youth learn valuable business and technology skills.

The business really started by accident. With a background in graphic design, Pearce spent time at a few ad agencies before moving from Cincinnati to Columbus to work for a small software company. The experience introduced him to subscription-based businesses, marketing and sales skills, “I learned about everything in the business,” he says of this time working for a small operation.

Something was missing, though. Pearce wanted to bring a more mission-focused presence to his life so he started a dodgeball tournament to raise money for victims of human trafficking. The tournament put him in touch with John Rush of She Has a Name Cleaning Services. While the company he was working for already had a cleaning provider, Pearce wanted to find any way he could to help SHAN, so he offered to use his skills to update their website.

The experience would be the impetus for Makeshark. However, Pearce didn’t want to stop at just helping small businesses, “I knew that when I started the business I wanted it to have a mission other than just making money,” he says.

Pearce talked to Rush about groups with which Makeshark could make an impact, eventually gravitating to urban youth. Makeshark partners with St. Stephen’s Community Center in South Linden to provide interns with valuable training opportunities. Youth start out in a paid internship through the community center, with the potential to continue on with Makeshark as a consultant.

“South Linden especially is one of the most impoverished neighborhoods in our city,” Pearce says. The ultimate goal is to help the interns get jobs that almost double the median income for the neighborhood of $25,000.

As a consultant with Makeshark, youth move through various levels of employment, earning commissions on websites that they sell and build. The approach not only teaches the youth technical skills like web design, but also soft skills like marketing.

Pearce had help refining the social enterprise side of the business through SEA Change, an accelerator program for social enterprises. Before the program, he knew he wanted to help urban youth but didn’t have a set plan. The accelerator helped Makeshark with the how, making Pearce think through the process of getting students into a field with more income opportunity.

So far Makeshark has trained four interns and hired one, Kwaku Oppong, on as a contractor. Pearce and Oppong are joined by four other consultants that collectively serve Makeshark’s 35 customers, which include local small business and non-profits like SHAN, COhatch, Porttion, OH! Chips and Community Shares.

Makeshark’s unique fee structure that requires no payment up front, but instead relies on hosting and domain fees, presents a win-win.

“It’s good for companies because they don’t have to pay any money up front,” Pearce says. “It’s good for us because we are able to be sustainable.”

Pearce says the web design industry usually works in one of two ways. One, business owners do it themselves through services like Squarespace where frustrations abound.

“The problem there is people aren’t web designers, they are business owners,” Pearce says.

Option two is the professional route, hiring an agency or experienced designer, which comes with high up front costs, and, “Then there’s no support on the back end,” Pearce says.

Instead of up-front costs, Makeshark relies on monthly fee packages that encompass the domain name, hosting cost, security, backup and local support. That also equates to a steady stream of revenue for the firm.

Long-term, Pearce doesn’t want the impact of Makeshark to stop with their business. He wants to teach other businesses why it’s beneficial to work with urban youth.

“At some point I want to teach other businesses how to work with St. Stephan’s Community Center,” he says.


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