Kelley School of Business project helps Hoosier small businesses

The Kelley HOPE Digital Project provides stability to small businesses during times of economic uncertainty.



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The HOPE Digital Project has assisted 179 small businesses since May. Courtesy Photo

When the coronavirus pandemic began sweeping through the U.S. in March, many small businesses had to close their storefronts, and look for new, digital solutions to survive.

IndyBaroque Music was one of those small businesses. The nonprofit organization relied heavily on collecting donations from live concert performances, all of which were canceled due to the pandemic. Seeking assistance to keep their business alive, IndyBaroque Music turned to the HOPE Digital Project, run by the Kelley School of Business.

“Having the MSIS students enhance our website functionality has given us a new capacity to monetize streaming performances in this time of limited face to face concert possibilities,” Leela Breithaupt, President and CEO at IndyBaroque Music said. “IndyBaroque is fortunate to be able to be an early adopter of this technology in Indianapolis with the help of the Kelley HOPE Digital Project.”

Nicole Kearney, founder of Sip & Share Wines, also experienced challenges when the pandemic forced her to move her business online. The HOPE Digital Project team helped Kearney build a more user-friendly website that better reflected her small business.

“Our new website is sleek and functional for novice and experienced wine lovers,” Kearney said. “The experience, service provided and final outcome are stellar. Cheers to IU for creating a fantastic program for local businesses to access.”

IndyBaroque Music and Sip & Share Wines are just two of the 179 small businesses assisted by the HOPE Digital Project since May. The Kelley School of Business partnered with the Indiana Small Business Development Center for the project, in order to help businesses facing an existential crisis precipitated by the pandemic.

The project aims to equip Hoosier small businesses with the digital tools they need to succeed and even thrive during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond. Of the businesses assisted, 50% were women-owned and 22% were led by minorities.

“Through this project, we are able to ensure that these businesses are not only able to survive the disastrous effects of the pandemic but are also coming out stronger than ever before,” Mitali Mehra, a graduate student in Kelley’s MSIS program and one of the founding Program Managers on Project Hope said. “Small businesses are a critical part of the community and have been there for us when we have needed them, but now it is our turn to help them when they need us."

Bipin Prabhakar, chair of Information Systems Graduate Programs, is one of the leaders of the HOPE Digital Project.

The HOPE Digital Project team is led by Bipin Prabhakar, chair of Information Systems Graduate Programs at the Kelley School of Business, along with professors Alan Dennis and Keith Dayton. The team assists small businesses with their digitization, which includes creating an effective online presence, connecting to digital markets, providing search engine optimization, cybersecurity assessments, improving  a company’s social media presence and more.

Each small business worked with the HOPE Digital Project interns for two weeks. David Watkins, State Director of the Indiana Small Business Development Center, said the project gave businesses access to resourceful students who could share their digital expertise.

“We’re really glad the Kelley School of Business reached out,” Watkins said. “The feedback we get from these small businesses is really a good reflection of the quality of the students and the institution.”

96% of the HOPE Digital Project clients were satisfied with the work of the team, with 80% feeling confident that they could use the new technology implemented by the program.

Over 170 MSIS alumni, current and prospective students are involved in the project. For many, the HOPE Digital Project offered them a chance to gain experience working with real companies on time-sensitive, mission-critical projects, when many of their original internships or jobs were impacted by the pandemic.

“We want to use these exceptionally trained students to help the struggling small business community in our state and get a great internship experience,” Prabhakar said. “They help companies succeed in a challenging environment.”

The project, originally scheduled to run until August, has since been extended to December. Prabhakar said the pandemic’s lasting effects makes the HOPE Digital Project even more crucial.

Daniel Van Drunen, a Lead Solutions Architect on the project and an alumnus of the MSIS program, said the project builds a special connection between the small businesses and the students assisting them.

“All of us are in this together,” Van Drunen said. “It’s the responsibility of everyone during this time to do whatever we can to help other people, to push back a lot of the uncertainties and fears we all face and push forward.”

The HOPE Digital Project internship is open to students of all majors. For more information and to apply for the project, go to https://gokelley.iu.edu/ksbhope.

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