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Bizi, a new website started by three Northwestern students, launched on May 17. The website aims to help Evanston residents support small local businesses rather than buy from big chain corporations.
Bizi also helps pair residents with businesses that align with their values, including sustainability, diversity, ethicality and community. Website users can enter their grocery, retail, entertainment, or food-related needs into a search bar and filter the results by price range and by the values the business promote.
Bizi’s cofounders, Northwestern seniors Alicia Lee, Benjamin Gross, and Martha Castro, said they started the website in an entrepreneurship class at Northwestern last spring. Initially, they wanted to design Bizi as an app to help students engage with businesses while social distancing and following COVID-19 protocols. The founders pivoted their website to focus more on connecting consumers and businesses in ways that benefit both parties, said Mr. Gross.
The founders began sending out surveys and interviewing businesses and consumers in late September. Mr. Gross found that while many consumers were vocal about their values on social media, they were not necessarily putting those ideas in practice. “It’s so easy to just rely on Amazon, even when you’d rather support a local business,” said Mr. Gross.
People tend to think of businesses as entities rather than people, said Ms. Lee. To help change this mindset, the Bizi website has a “stories” page on which users can read about the owners of Evanston businesses. Bizi wants to humanize local businesses and help consumers form an emotional connection with local shops, said Ms. Lee.
In creating Bizi, the cofounders have noticed their own habits start to change. “I’ve definitely been making more of an effort to take the extra five minutes to stop at the local businesses,” said Mr. Gross.
Ms. Lee said she has learned a lot about the volunteer efforts of local businesses, and creating Bizi led her to eat at Hecky’s Barbecue for the first time. She said she loves the food and has started to introduce the business to her friends as well.
“I definitely started branching out after working on Bizi,” said Ms. Lee. “I’ve noticed all the good these small business owners do for our community and I want to support them.”
Bizi’s cofounders encourage Evanston residents to check out their website, staybizi.com, and follow them on Instagram, @thebiziteam.