Media School students support small businesses’ transition to digital storefronts
Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for small businesses nationwide, but some in Indiana are getting a boost in digital capabilities thanks to IU students participating in Project HOPE, including Media School students.
The project launched in May 2020 as a collaboration between the Kelley School of Business and the Indiana Small Business Development Center to help small businesses better handle the transition to a digital storefront as it became increasingly necessary during stay-at-home advisories and restrictions. At first, only students enrolled in the Kelley School of Business Master of Science in information systems program were eligible to participate.
As the project continued, more clients started requesting media-based help, such as social media strategies and multimedia elements, so Project HOPE began collaborating with The Media School. The project is now open to any undergraduate student on campus who wants to get involved.
Kelley clinical professor and project advisor Bipin Prabhakar said The Media School’s involvement now allows the project to tackle media-centric projects such as social media campaigns or to improve media elements of technology-driven projects, like website design.
Students work in small teams for two-week “sprints,” with each sprint being assigned to a different client in need of assistance and around 20 new projects being launched every week, with up to 40 parallel projects at the peak of last summer.
Drishti Shah, BA’20, joined Project HOPE last August through an introduction from a friend in the MSIS program, before the official collaboration with The Media School began. Now, she’s a technical account manager leading student teams, meeting biweekly with the Indiana SBDC and loving the work she’s doing.
“You get to know them so well. You get to hear about their hopes and dreams, which I know is very cheesy, but it’s true,” she said. “These people are coming to us because they don’t have the money to expand their business or go online because they don’t have the capability to do so.”
Shah said the project allows her to form relationships with small business owners all over the state. One of her former Project HOPE clients, a woman who makes seasonal mailbox decals, sent her a birthday card after the project was done.
Samantha Meyer, a junior studying media advertising and minoring in informatics, is another technical account manager for Project HOPE. She said joining was intimidating at first, but everyone was welcoming and willing to catch people up to speed as they worked on the projects.
Meyer credits her Media School education and her work with student-run Agency 7 as experience that’s now helping her in her role with Project HOPE.
“That’s real-world experience that’s helping me now,” she said. “I’m working with real clients, using real business information. This is real. It’s definitely not a game, or not just a project.”
She’s worked on projects including creating or revising websites using Wix, designing logos, forming a fluid social media voice and consistent posting strategy — whatever is needed on a client-by-client basis.
Eliza Erlexben, director of student services for The Media School, supports Media School student leaders involved in the program and helps to onboard new project members.
While the positions are unpaid, Erlexben said the program is a good opportunity for students to network with those from other schools and work with real-world clients to produce something that will actually be implemented, while working entirely remotely.
“We’re really excited to be able to offer opportunities like this to students,” she said. “We’re excited to be in a partnership with Project HOPE. They’ve helped a lot of small businesses around Indiana, and they’re really mindful that they’re reaching out to businesses that are women-owned, that are minority-owned, making sure they have a diversity of clientele that they’re reaching out to and getting in the Project HOPE pipeline.”
The Media School is looking to onboard students as the project continues into its second summer. Interested students can apply here, and any undergraduate student is encouraged to get involved — and Prabhakar said they’ll train students in whatever skills are necessary to participate.
“We need people,” Prabhakar said. “We have the projects. The more students we can get, the more we can scale up.”