A new initiative aims to provide increased support for small businesses in central Indiana.
Enterprise Corps, the partnership between the Indy Chamber Business Ownership Initiative and the Kelley School of Business at IUPUI, expands resources available to small businesses in Indianapolis, connecting them with faculty coaches and MBA teams to answer questions and solve problems.
“COVID-19 challenged businesses to pivot,” said Sarah MacInnis, Director of Business Coaching Services at the Indy Chamber’s Business Ownership Initiative (BOI). “As a small business support organization for central Indiana, BOI saw exponential demand for business coaching, resources, and funding in the last 18 months, and we continue to see increasing demand. The Enterprise Corps partnership with the Kelley School assists BOI in satisfying that demand.”
“Research indicates that two of the larger barriers for small businesses are access to connected networks and access to capital. BOI breaks down these barriers. We connect small businesses to free resources, like professional coaching, the Enterprise Corp network, and access to capital through BOI’s small business loans. This partnership between academia and economic development is unique. The Kelley School faculty, alumni, and surrounding network is an untapped resource. Like our BOI business coaches, they are experts looking at businesses, analyzing them, and providing advice on how small businesses can stabilize, scale, and grow, so they are pivoting in the right direction.”
The first phase of Enterprise Corps paired Kelley School faculty with small businesses for regular coaching and mentoring over several months. Each business owner identified initiatives to increase operational cash flow and developed a growth plan for the future.
“When COVID hit, I thought, ‘What better time than now to start researching how I can improve my business, expand my network and resources,’” said Dr. Jerwana Laster, DPM, owner of We Heel the Sole Podiatry LLC. Laster specializes in on-site podiatric services for the geriatric community in nursing homes, assisted living centers and rehab facilities – a community dramatically affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Working with Kelley professors and the Indy Chamber, I started looking for other avenues for revenue and ways to better market to the geriatric community and nursing home administrators,” said Dr. Laster. “This opened the door and showed me a lot of things I wasn’t doing as a business owner and that I didn’t know existed. If something like COVID happens again, I’ll be so much more prepared, and I know how to weather the storm.”
“All of these business owners have the talent and drive to build a profitable enterprise,” said Phil Powell, Associate Dean of Academic Programs at the Kelley School of Business on IUPUI’s campus. “Research shows the barrier to success for many Indianapolis entrepreneurs is access to knowledge, networks and financial capital. Through Enterprise Corps, we hope to bridge that gap and become an intermediary to pool regional assistance for small businesses. By helping small businesses, Indianapolis will become a more competitive metropolitan region in terms of economic mobility and small business creation.”
“2020 was very difficult for us. We were closed for several months and also affected by the protests downtown,” said Ben Diallo, founder of J. Benzal Menswear, a formal and casual wear boutique specializing in custom Italian suits. “The last few months have been very good. People are starting to go back to work, so they’re shopping for clothes. And we’re doing weddings. Business is picking back up. But it was very beneficial to have a second set of eyes looking at my operation and finances with this partnership. The Kelley faculty recommended I consolidate my northside operations, which will allow me to better serve my customers and maintain employees. I don’t think I would have considered that option without the extra eyes on my books.”
This partnership first started in March 2020, when the Kelley School faculty helped with the Indy Chamber’s Rapid Response Hub, answering immediate questions from business owners across central Indiana at the beginning of the pandemic. As the year continued, faculty delivered eight webinars as part of the chamber’s Rapid Recovery Series to help small businesses relaunch operations during the pandemic.
Enterprise Corps’s second phase is happening this summer. Kelley School Evening MBA students and their faculty mentors have been working with 22 small businesses across central Indiana as consultants. Several businesses from phase one continued into phase two and are working with the student teams.
The long-term goal of Enterprise Corps is to expand into a large regional network of specialized experts and coaches who can provide knowledge and analysis to small businesses that join the program.
“As we grow this partnership, we hope to create a community of partners that allows us to service even more businesses on a daily basis,” said Rick Proctor, Executive Director of the Indy Chamber’s Business Ownership Initiative. “The Kelley School has thousands of graduates in the area. Having several thousand volunteers to connect with businesses will create a limitless volunteer group. Any business needing assistance can receive it in a timely fashion with the high-quality service that both the Business Ownership Initiative and the Kelley School offer. This also broadens the number of topics on which we can coach, allowing us to match entrepreneurs with specialists in their area.”
The Kelley MBA teams will finish their work in August 2021. In September, Enterprise Corps will help client businesses implement strategic recommendations provided by students. The Kelley School and the Indy Chamber plan to use this as a foundation to grow the partnership and scale Enterprise Corps to help a larger set of small businesses in 2022.
Associate Director of Communications and Media Relations
IU Kelley School of Business at IUPUI