Big name tech companies including Facebook, Google, Square, SalesForce, Chase Bank, and many others are offering the knowledge they have acquired on the way up to small businesses that might not be getting all the help they need.
In April 2016, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) launched a technology coalition partnered with a huge variety of organizations to help small businesses thrive in their local markets. At its heart is a goal to help small businesses grow and reduce their reliance on brick-and-mortar storefronts, while using technology to become more efficient and compete better with bigger companies.
“The tech coalition helps small businesses leverage technology to impact every single aspect of their businesses,” says Michael Morales, current White House Fellow and senior advisor to the Administrator for the SBA. “Inward, outward, community facing, how they connect with other small businesses – it touches everything.”
Morales is a self-described “Air Force guy” who served as a commander in Afghanistan and piloted more than 200 combat airlift missions into Afghanistan and Iraq. When he was selected as a White House Fellow, he asked specifically to be placed with the SBA.
“I wanted to do something completely different,” he says. “Immediately upon hearing about what the tech coalition was doing, I wanted to be a part of it.”
Initially, Morales believed that much of the work that the SBA would do with the coalition would be about online marketing and web presence, and it does include those things. But also, it’s about helping small businesses leverage the same technologies that propelled Silicon Valley giants.
Ro Prakash, co-founder of hyperlocal networking platform Townsquared, says that his company has “emerged as the glue” for many small businesses, who have used the platform to connect with each other and share resources that might not otherwise get the circulation possible. Townsquared is a coalition partner and currently, Prakash says that the goal is to create content, based on what the partners have learned in their businesses’ growth, that is immediately relevant to small businesses.
“The way you make this relevant to the small business community is that you have to make it local,” Prakash says. “It’s the most relevant information to them.”
Prakash uses the example of the accounting software company Intuit, which has a wealth of knowledge about its community of accountants and businesses that use its software. Other coalition partners are experts on technology systems such as automated payroll, HR support, benefits tracking, and cybersecurity.
Townsquared is also working with the coalition to allow bigger brands to hone their messages and test in local markets, as they help build out what is expected to be a massive store of information for business owners. Creating trusted content that will actually be valuable to the small businesses is what Prakash says is the first priority, and they’re still working on that equation, as well as determining exactly how to deliver this content.
“Our whole mission is to empower business owners with trusted knowledge,” he says. “Our value is how we do the delivery; the hyperlocal expertise that we have being the glue between business owners. We believe that that’s one of the tactics that will be used.”
This month, the SBA’s tech coalition is focusing on cybersecurity.
Kristin Judge, director of government affairs and special projects at the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA), says there are two main reasons why the NCSA is wants to target small businesses with supportive measures to help them with staying safe online.
“First is the fact that cybersecurity threats to small businesses are growing, and the businesses are realized that they need to pay attention to know how to protect themselves,” she says. “Three years ago, it was hard to get small business owners in the room [to discuss this], because they thought it didn’t pertain to them.”
Of course, it does pertain to them, and as more owners found viruses, hacks, and data breaches to be affecting their business growth, it became easier to convince them to pay attention to their company cybersecurity.
“The second thing is that it comes down to a staffing or a revenue perspective,” Judge says. “Someone owns a small business, they’re going to spend all their money growing and staffing and focusing on what it takes to deliver the best pizzas or create the best widget. That’s where they spend their time and resources.”
Small businesses usually don’t have dedicated IT staff, Judge says. They usually don’t have the money to hire cybersecurity experts, and they don’t have the bandwidth to delve into learning security tactics on their own.
That’s where the NCSA wants to edge in. Judge says that as a government organization, the NCSA won’t recommend specific cybersecurity software programs that business owners should adopt, but she can say the main places where they can start to adopt more secure business practices.
Authentication is one of the most important tools, Judge says.
“What I would do is search for what’s the best authentication tool for small businesses,” Judge says. “Trade magazines do studies on the best ones and will explain, ‘Here’s why you need this,’ and then lay out the reasons why.”
Different types of businesses need different solutions, though, so she says it’s important for owners and managers to research their specific needs.
“But look at the ROI on prevention,” she says. “CEOs and owners are always worried about bottom line, but I like to talk about the ROI similar to insurance. You may not have a flood, but you get flood insurance because if you do have a flood, it’s going to cost X dollars to clean that up.”
With time, the SBA and its partners believe that small businesses can adopt the tech-related accelerators like security, streamlined applications for increased efficiency, and connected communication to grow in the same way that coalition partners have. Morales from the SBA cited a 2013 Boston Consulting Group (BCG) study that indicated an opportunity for small and medium-sized businesses.
“If more SMEs could achieve the growth rates of technology leaders, we estimate that SME revenue could potentially grow by $770 billion in the five countries we surveyed,” the study states. “SMEs in these countries also have the potential to create an additional 6.2 million jobs. Moreover, an increase in technology leaders would help create more vibrant economies because these companies excel at innovation.”
The study points out that online connectivity gives everyone the ability to compete more effectively, regardless of location.
Though the coalition is in the early stages, Morales says his vision is to include a list of best practices for public-private partnerships, putting resources together to leverage all the different kinds of expertise that the coalition is bringing together.
“This has been my biggest project,” Morales says. “This is the one I’m most excited about, with the most potential for impacting the small business ecosystem.”
April Nowicki is a contributor at Street Fight.