A partnership between the Indy Chamber Business Ownership Initiative and the Kelley School of Business at IUPUI, initiated at the end of the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, is entering its next phase of supporting small businesses across central Indiana.
Enterprise Corps serves as an accelerator for small businesses in the region — with an emphasis on historically underserved businesses — connecting them with Indiana University faculty “coaches” and teams of Kelley School MBA students as they aim to grow their operations and continue to overcome the challenges of the global health crisis.
The first phase of the Enterprise Corps project began in December 2020, pairing 10 Kelley School faculty members with an equal number of Black- and Hispanic-owned small businesses for management coaching, training and mentoring sessions. Over a period of several months, the faculty members worked with the owners of each business — many of whom had struggled to survive the COVID-19 lockdown — to develop plans for acquiring financial capital, entrepreneurial knowledge and network connections.
Last summer, the project partnered teams of Kelley Evening MBA students working to complete their summer “capstone” projects with 22 small business owners from across central Indiana referred by the Indy Chamber’s Rapid Response Hub. In September, Enterprise Corps helped the owners, all but one of whom were people of color, pursue implementation of strategic recommendations made by the MBA teams.
With the Chamber’s continued support, Enterprise Corps has added another 20 businesses to its client roster this summer, and IU students and faculty will begin working directly with them in the next several days as the Kelley School’s newest summer capstone projects begin. The project’s partners intend to onboard a total of 50 new businesses by the end of the year and then steadily grow to 100 additional businesses by the end of 2023 and 200 more businesses by the end of 2024. (Companies “graduate” from the program when they reach $10 million in revenue.)
“The Enterprise Corps collaboration between the Kelley School and Indy Chamber advances equitable opportunities for our entrepreneurial community and promotes wealth generation for historically marginalized communities,” said Sarah MacInnis, Indy Chamber’s vice president of Small Business Development. “Through commitments like Enterprise Corps, we can advance the continued evolution of Indy’s entrepreneurial ecosystem as an ideal place to create, grow and advance a business for all.”
The long-term goal of Enterprise Corps is to build out its technical infrastructure and raise enough support to expand into a large regional network of specialized experts and coaches who can provide year-round knowledge, analysis and mentorship to small businesses that join the program. The Indy Chamber has already adopted Enterprise Corps as a lead regional small business initiative, and for its newest phase the project will partner with the Indy Black Chamber of Commerce, Mid-States Minority Supplier Development Council and the Business Equity for Indy collaborative to expand the project’s offerings, reach and impact on a larger set of businesses.
Last week, Phil Powell, associate dean of academic programs at the Kelley School at IUPUI, served as the featured presenter at the second-quarter meeting of the IU Council for Regional Engagement and Economic Development. CREED addresses regional economic concerns and identifies ways that IU can use its resources to advance economic development efforts in the state.
During the CREED meeting, Powell, a scholar in economic development and award-winning MBA teacher in economics, discussed the keys to the initial success of Enterprise Corps and plans to expand the project’s ecosystem in ways that ultimately raise central Indiana’s ranking as a place where small businesses achieve success.
“This is an accelerator project,” Powell said. “As long as small businesses owners are engaged with Enterprise Corps, we want them to have wraparound support so they can get up to the graduation point of $10 million in revenue. We’re focused on the small businesses that are looking to accelerate their growth and scale their market presence. These are the businesses that will drive economic development in central Indiana.”
“Our partnership with the Indy Chamber has been central to the success of Enterprise Corps,” he added. “We’ve really come together with the Chamber to advance our shared goal of helping small business owners maximize their talent and drive to build profitable enterprises. To this end, we want to help them overcome the barriers to their success, including not enough access to knowledge, networks and financial capital.”
Though the project began in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Powell is quick to underscore that it’s not a “flash in the pan.” As Enterprise Corps-affiliated faculty and students discover more about the communities they’re serving, they’ve identified a number of “aspirational” programs that they hope to establish in the coming months to more effectively respond to the needs of small business owners. These programs are designed to provide greater access to, among other resources, loan capital and customers, coaching and mentorship, undergraduate interns and digital marketing support.
“This is a multi-decade vision,” Powell said. “We’ve got a staged process we’ve laid out, and we’re being deliberate and patient as we build our infrastructure. At the same time, we’re really excited by the success we’ve had so far, and our staff and faculty are really enjoying this effort because it breaks the mold of how your traditional university does business. It’s about committing to a singular goal, getting the job done and making central Indiana a more competitive region in terms of economic mobility and small business creation.”
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