Designing a hyperlocal social network to foster growth of a startup ecosystem
Design Strategy, UX, UX Research, Prototyping
10 weeks (with live client)
While Richmond has momentum, energy, and an abundance of resources to help entrepreneurs push their ideas to the next level, it lacks unification and coordination to foster a community of entrepreneurs regardless of what stage they are in. The Richmond startup experience often feels rudderless for the uninitiated and frustrating for the uninvolved.
How do you get a community to rally around a platform, contribute and participate to help drive a thriving startup community?
More importantly, how do we create a lasting impression through driving societal change, not just economic change, to propel Richmond to national recognition?
Conceived by my teammates and I, Unify is a hyperlocal professionalized social network that empowers professionals to build meaningful connections in their communities — whether it is finding the right people for a business idea, professional networking, or just grabbing a coffee. It's a solution that could be applied on a national or even international scale and provides significant value to a startup ecosystem.
UNIFY = TALENT + EVENTS + RESOURCES + LOCALITY
Throughout our research process, as our team became more familiar with the many variables at play within the startup ecosystem in RVA, we observed a unique opportunity in the marketplace. The diagram below depicts how our solution addresses this opportunity and also its relation to three well-established social networks.
SOCIAL NETWORK OPPORTUNITY MAP
KEY FEATURES WALKTHROUGH VIDEO
The entrepreneurial community in RVA is strong and supportive
Richmond is on the rise
WHAT WE DISCOVERED
The RVA startup scene is fragmented
The ecosystem seems hard to break into & infiltrate
SHAREHOLDER INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS
“The start up community needs a place where you feel accepted no matter how much of a business background you have. Starting alone can be discouraging but finding inspiration from others can be encouraging.”
"The people that helped me the most during the process of establishing my business are from right around the corner. I see them the most and we help each other a lot."
"The start-up ecosystem lacks coordination, but the energy is here. There are lots of fun things and events happening."
ASSUMPTIONS ON PROFESSIONAL NETWORKING
1. Most of the connections on LinkedIn are not meaningful and do not provide significant value.
2. People engage the most with professionals in their close vicinity.
3. People would prefer a location-based platform for professional networking.
(These assumptions were supported with our survey of 49 participants, results of which can be seen below)
The visual below details our activation strategy, which would coincide with a Beta roll-out as well as a 2-day crash course known as Unify Academy, designed to equip entrepreneurial talent with the business skills they need in order to succeed in the bustling startup ecosystem.
Tackling this project was overwhelming from the onset, as we felt that we had the problem of an entire city to solve in a matter of weeks. With that being said, it was truly rewarding to gain experience in narrowing down the focus of a large-scale issue into one solution. The irony that became revealed through working to unite the ecosystem of startups in the area is that it felt like we were crafting our very own startup in doing so. I learned that any undertaking can become greater than the sum of its parts, and the possibilities are endless through research, networking and implementation of feedback.