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IU Kelley students, staff help small Indiana businesses move online during pandemic



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Professor Alan Dennis introduces the Kelley HOPE Digital project to incoming students in the Kelley Master of Science Information Systems program. Graduate students in the MSIS program are participating in the Kelley Hoosiers Online Professional Engagement Digital Project. Courtesy Photo

IU’s Kelley School of Business launched the Kelley Hoosiers Online Professional Engagement Digital Project last week to offer free help to small Indiana businesses with online operations during the pandemic.

The program is run by graduate students in the masters of science in information systems program at Kelley and their advisors. The project acts as an internship for the students, said Bipin Prabhakar, program advisor and chair of the information systems graduate programs.

Prabhakar said recent information systems graduates are volunteering their time, and current or incoming graduate students will receive some sort of scholarship in the fall or a stipend.

“We’ve just basically been able to apply everything we’ve been learning throughout the MSIS program into something that we actually really care about,” said Jake McCarty, a recent MSIS graduate and a project manager.

Businesses receive help creating a website, using a digital storefront, using social media and more. Some business owners don't have much technology or online experience but need it to stay in business, McCarty said. 

“Just from the requests we’ve seen, there’s so many businesses that have been successful for decades,” McCarty said. “Since the COVID lockdown has occurred, their whole business has been completely disrupted.”

The students and staff plan to spend about two weeks working on a business’s solutions. The goal is to help at least 100 businesses over the summer, Prabhakar said.

“The idea is to help as many companies as possible that are facing more of an existential crisis,” Prabhakar said.

Kelley partnered with Indiana Small Business Development Centers and the Gayle and Bill Cook Center for Entrepreneurship at Ivy Tech Community College Bloomington. The partnerships help connect the Kelley program to clients, Prabhakar said. The partnership with the Indiana SBDC also helps program workers triage and look at which businesses need the most help.

Troy Phelps, Assistant Director of the Gayle & Bill Cook Center for Entrepreneurship, said the project provides the perfect opportunity for business owners who come to Ivy Tech and Indiana SBDC looking for help with technology and online business right now.

“This is invaluable service to clients,” he said. “It’s not just an issue if they can’t afford it in today’s environment. They don’t even know what to ask for.”

The program is in a pilot phase right now, McCarty said. About 10 students and six faculty members are working with four businesses to figure out what technological solutions work before they bring in more students. He said they will likely bring in about 70 more students and a couple more faculty members after the pilot phase.

McCarty said he thinks the program’s work is important because it keeps small businesses on their feet and in the community.

“I think it’s kind of the lifeblood of Indiana,” he said.

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