In Room T209 at Philadelphia University's Tuttleman Center several weeks back, the focus of attention was a tiny face on a laptop screen.

But rather than giving help, as former Philadelphia restaurateur Judy Wicks - an internationally recognized leader of the local-living-economies movement - typically does, she was making this personal appearance via Skype to get some.

Also looking for guidance - regarding the book her boss wants to promote better, as well as her own Burning Sphere glass-bead jewelry line - was Wicks' assistant, Sara Schuenemann.

Five others have gone before them to professor Tom Baselice's marketing class, including the owner of a South Jersey recycling company, and representatives of a Montgomery County swim club and a Main Line chai tea manufacturer.

All have been lured by a 40-year veteran of the electrical industry who is spending this phase of his life trying to improve the odds for the region's small-business owners.

In the process, Baselice, 65, of Williamstown, is helping students each semester pull closer to an M.B.A. degree with experiences far more fulfilling than digesting a textbook. They are coming up with solutions to real businesses' marketing problems.

Never without a bag of freshly baked soft pretzels for his students - most of whom come directly to the night class from their day jobs - Baselice shrugged and laughed when asked why he chose to focus his lesson plan on small businesses.

"Maybe I'm a frustrated entrepreneur," said the grandfather of four, who also does marketing and training consulting.

Baselice's route to the classroom as an adjunct professor began with a long career at Westinghouse, where the South Philadelphia native started in the mailroom and finished as a sales executive.

Fast-forward through an M.B.A. of his own and consulting work to 2006, when the opportunity arose to teach at Philadelphia U. Baselice said he took the job in part to be inspired by young minds and spread what he considers the most critical advice for marketing professionals:

"Listen to your customers. Your customers will tell you what they need from you."

How that evolved into his tracking down small businesses to help began with a friend grappling with declining membership at the Nor-Gwyn Pool in North Wales. Walter J. Weber Jr., chairman of the swim club board, asked Baselice whether he could seek input from his students on turning things around.

"That was the 'Aha!' moment," Baselice said. He searches The Inquirer business section for leads and solicits on Twitter.

"A perfect blend of hands-on experience and theoretical marketing" is how Weber described Baselice. His pool membership woes are under control partly because of "the young marketers' good ideas," Weber said.

Dawn Lewis, owner of Chaikhana Chai in Malvern, knew nothing about Baselice when she got a call from him in summer 2012. She decided working with students with "fresh minds and who were curious and energetic . . . would be a really fun thing to do."

With mostly restaurants and cafes as clients, Lewis told Baselice's fall 2012 class she wanted more of a retail presence. What the class of people in their 20s and 30s showed her, she said, was "how and where they needed to see" her teas: Pinterest, Facebook, and farmers' markets, among other suggestions.

One student's marketing angle targeted the yoga set, which "I hadn't thought of," Lewis said.

Sales doubled last year and are on track to double again this year, said Lewis, who still meets occasionally with Baselice to update him.

His instructional format is mutually beneficial, she said: both to the business owners getting free guidance and the students gaining business perspective.

In June, Wicks told Baselice's class she wanted to improve distribution of her new book, Good Morning, Beautiful Business, "not to make a lot of money for myself, to get my message across to build a more caring, compassionate economy." She had sold 5,000 copies since its March launch.

The students chuckled when Wicks admitted that she had never used her Twitter account, that she didn't know the difference between a webinar and a podcast, and that she forgot to post on Facebook.

Ultimately, the seven-member team assigned to her produced a 25-page marketing plan pushing the use of social media, including blogs and YouTube, in collaboration with business schools - as well as rebranding the book to reach audiences beyond those interested in memoirs.

"We found memoirs are one of the hardest to market," student Benita Daniels told Wicks on Dec. 9, as the latter sat nearly 200 miles away in State College waiting to address the Women in Agriculture Network's annual conference.

Daniels advised that Good Morning, Beautiful Business would have wider appeal as a primer on leadership, self-improvement, sustainability, and start-ups.

Before signing off to give her speech, Wicks lauded the students for "a fantastic job" - while referring to another bane of small-business owners:

"I can't wait to have the time to do these ideas."

dmastrull@phillynews.com

215-854-2466 @dmastrull