Connect IND: Connecting Indiana’s Innovators With The Information They Need To Succeed

Connect IND streamlines information access for Indiana's entrepreneurs - learn how Morgan Allen from the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) helped to bring this platform from an idea to implemented throughout the state

Morgan Allen, IEDC's Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Manager

EcoMap and the IEDC are excited to announce the launch of Connect IND, a statewide portal designed to make resources and information more accessible to entrepreneurs across Indiana.

Sponsored by the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC), a state agency dedicated to promoting innovation, job creation, and economic growth within Indiana, the platform is designed to help entrepreneurs and small businesses in Indiana connect with the resources they need to succeed.

We recently sat down with Morgan Allen, Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Manager at IEDC, to chat about ConnectIND and how she envisions it helping entrepreneurs flourish in Indiana.

Identifying the Need for Connect IND

Indiana's ConnectIND is an ecosystem portal that aims to make important resources and information accessible to entrepreneurs throughout the state. The idea for this portal came out of the need for a centralized platform that could provide easy access to resources. When COVID hit, businesses needed information regarding what was available to them, but navigating the different resources and connections became difficult.

Over one thousand statewide resources are available on Connect IND, curated by common keywords
“In Indiana we have an abundance of resources available but they historically haven't been very accessible”, Allen explained.

These concerns surrounding the accessibility of resources being primarily dependent on knowing the right people sparked conversations around the need for something like ConnectIND. Their concerns, however, were put on hold as the state focused on helping businesses navigate the pandemic.

Conversations resumed when Secretary Brad Chambers, a life-long entrepreneur himself, made developing a digital front door for entrepreneurial resources in Indiana a top priority.

Enter EcoMap.

User Testing and Incorporating Feedback

ConnectIND was created for entrepreneurs, meaning the state had to ensure the tool was built keeping their needs in mind. User testing was vital to the success of the portal, and the team gathered feedback from over 200 entrepreneurs and entrepreneur support organizations (ESO's). They were deliberate about including diverse backgrounds, industries, and a variety of stages of businesses.

Resources and organizations are also grouped by stage of venture they can support

IEDC and the EcoMap team worked together closely to ensure that this feedback was utilized in the process of developing the platform, using this to shape the different features built into ConnectIND. Morgan broke down the beta testing sessions for us with a compelling anecdote:

“We had to be intentional about making sure that people from all backgrounds were at the table and were able to offer feedback. At our very first beta testing event, a woman who was on the platform for only 20 minutes broke down in tears…for how grateful and excited she was to be able to access all this information [about Indiana's business resources]."

“I didn't know something like this even existed” Morgan said, quoting the beta user.

This wasn't a one-off occurrence either.

IEDC found that throughout beta testing 96% of entrepreneurs said they would recommend the ConnectIND EcoMap to a peer.

Launch of New Platform and Collateral

In order to spread awareness of ConnectIND and make more moments like this possible, IEDC and EcoMap built a marketing strategy for the platform.

“This won't work without marketing. It's great to have a resource like this available, but if people don't know about it, it's not actually accessible.”

The EcoMap engagement team has worked alongside IEDC to help create marketing collateral (custom newsletters, social media posts, etc.), to help promote the platform to entrepreneurs and ESO's within Indiana.

You can explore programs and resources by upcoming deadlines in Connect IND

After the official launch of the platform, Morgan explained that the IEDC is planning a statewide roadshow specifically for ESOs.

“Our aim is to bring together 100-150 ESOs in every region…to get their buy-in, feedback, and equip them with the tools and resources to be able to successfully adopt and use [Connect IND] in their community.

In addition, IEDC plans on utilizing placed ads and sponsorships to increase awareness of the platform, focusing their attention on local events throughout the state to emphasize “meeting entrepreneurs where they are”.

Scalable Support

IEDC is hiring 11 full-time ecosystem navigators to help walk founders through their entrepreneurial journey. These ecosystem navigators will utilize EcoMap's 1-1 support program management feature to track the progress of the founders they're working with and connect them to resources that are relevant to reach individual's unique situation.

Indiana's entrepreneurs can easily get connected with a personal ecosystem navigator

IEDC will also be rolling out EcoBot, an AI-enabled chatbot and EcoMap's newest product, to help founders quickly discover resources that exist around them.

“Brains are only so scalable,” Morgan joked, “and we can't just hire hundreds of ecosystem navigators to cover the entire state”.
“With EcoBot, the ability to provide on-demand ecosystem navigation support is really special, Morgan continued, “EcoBot will play a huge role in helping to make this ecosystem navigation scalable.”

Tips for Successful Implementation of a Statewide Entrepreneurship Platform

We asked Morgan to share some tips for other organizations and state agencies looking to support and engage their entrepreneurial ecosystem. Here’s what she had to say:

  1. Just Get Started: One of the biggest challenges in government is getting everyone on board to just get started. At the end of the day, you just need to start doing something and let it develop from there. If you see a need, go meet the need.
  2. Don't Get Stuck on Perfection: With any software tool and any product being brought into a new market, there will always be things that can be improved. If you get stuck on creating a perfect product, it will delay the process. Putting on that entrepreneurial hat and being comfortable iterating after something is live has been really important.
  3. Stakeholder Engagement is Important, But Don't Let It Delay: Stakeholder engagement and getting buy-in is important, but can also stall momentum when you are doing something on scale. For a statewide portal, getting all of the stakeholders in one room and getting them to buy in at the start may not be feasible. Being able to go live with something and then welcome them into the process and iterate has been crucial.
  4. Test, Test, Test: Getting feedback from the community every step of the way has been incredibly critical. Remember, you are building it for the community, not for yourselves. Continuously testing and getting feedback from your target audience will help you make changes based on their feedback and make the product better.
  5. Remember Who You Are Building It For: Things will always get in the way of progress, but at the end of the day, you're building it for the founders that are out there doing the work. It's important to remember who your number one customer is and always keep them in mind.

Excited for the Future

Here at EcoMap we are thrilled to be working with the IEDC to bring this platform to life and support the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Indiana. We believe that this platform will be a game-changer for entrepreneurs in the state, and we can't wait to see the impact it will have.

If you’re interested in bringing an EcoMap to better connect your community with the information they need, feel free to schedule a demo through the calendar below.

Eddie Micklovic

Chief of Staff