PEORIA — A long-running program that connects college students and small-business owners with the intention of helping both advance their careers is building a new roster of entrepreneurs for the fall semester.

Business owners who want help launching a product or service or creating marketing strategies, feasibility studies or strategic growth plans can apply to be part of the Senior Consulting Project program at Bradley University through Aug. 3.

Applications can be submitted online at www.bradley.edu/consult for participation in the fall semester, from Aug. 22 through Dec. 5.

"In general, it's open to any business of any type; we don't discriminate," said Kevin Evans, director of the Illinois Small Business Development Center at Bradley. "They're working as consultants in your business, so you, as the business owner, get to define what they work on."

The program has connected more than 11,000 students with more than 2,200 businesses over the course of more than four decades. Every senior-level business student is required to complete a capstone project, so student teams include individuals from a variety of disciplines.

"From an owner's perspective, you get a group of highly talented people that you might not otherwise be able to afford," Evans said. "For students, it's an opportunity to apply three years' worth of book knowledge to a real-world application and see how it is really done."

The program also has one other potential benefit for the whole community, Evans said. It represents an opportunity to connect students with local opportunities and possible employment after graduation, keeping a highly valued demographic in the area after commencement ceremonies conclude.

"This senior consulting project is one of the things that reverses the trend of losing young people," Evans said. "We have had a number of students stay here and work with small businesses and startups after getting out in the community and seeing the opportunities."

Matt Buedel can be reached at 686-3154 or mbuedel@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @JournoBuedel.