How can generative AI help diverse small businesses learn about the procurement process in higher education? Why design a chatbot for this purpose? Currently, many diverse small businesses have no idea what’s involved in selling goods and services to colleges and universities. This is an approximately 170-billion-dollar market, but the procurement process is complex. For a typical small business, with limited knowledge and resources, it can seem like a black box. Building on the work done by a team of Informatics capstone students in the spring of 2023, an interdisciplinary group of College of Professional Studies students tackled this project over the summer as a co-curricular project.
Designing a chatbot has multiple components. The team learned that building the components of the system is one thing, but connecting them into an operational prototype is quite a different challenge. A major challenge was to create a local knowledge base of relevant, accurate, and up-to-date data and understanding the capabilities of a new technology like ChatGPT4.
May 2023 – September 2023
Student Team Members
Professor Xiaomu Zhou
Professor Youngbok Ryu
Student and Alumni Consultants
Team Member Observations
“This experience has been a deep dive into the realm of supplier diversity initiatives, something I wasn’t very familiar with before working on this project. It was eye-opening to see how the Lab’s initiatives can create symbiotic relationships between small businesses and educational institutions. The fact that our lab is actively facilitating these connections, particularly within the New England area, has added an extra layer of meaning to the work we’re doing”.
“The user research and exploration of various diverse supplier programs helped us map the pain points of the suppliers and address them through a structured conversation question flow. We had to define a user journey aiming to connect suppliers with the educational institutions they might want to do business with and guide them through the process.”
The mission of the Northeastern Lab for Inclusive Entrepreneurship (NL4IE) is to contribute to economic development and community resilience by promoting inclusive, equitable innovation and entrepreneurship and assisting small businesses address their technical and managerial challenges.
The NL4IE’s work is grounded in applied research in such areas as economic development, digital technologies, and supply chain management. As part of Northeastern University’s global entrepreneurial ecosystem, NL4IE combines research knowledge, deep experience with hands-on learning, and community-based partnerships. This combination enables us to provide diverse small business owners with the practical skills and supportive networks that drive growth.