Civic News

A $150K grant will fund a virtual marketplace and digital resources for 45 small businesses in Philly

The initiative is meant to help close the digital divide that has left many small businesses behind in the move to ecommerce, said Maura Shenker of Temple's Small Business Development Center.

The grant will go toward getting 45 small businesses current on ecommerce.

(Courtesy photo)

When the pandemic hit two and a half years ago, many small businesses in Philadelphia struggled to take their operations online.

The digital divide was very clear, said Maura Shenker, the director of the Temple University’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC). Some businesses didn’t even have a website; how could they be expected to pivot to ecommerce when much shopping went remote? Now, between the rising cost of operations from inflation, supply chain challenges and other global factors, it continues to be a challenging time for small biz owners.

A new initiative in the form of a partnership between the SBDC, VestedIn (fka West Philadelphia Financial Services Institution) and ShopPhilly1st aims to support small business’ digital presence. The project, called Our Business, Our Neighborhoods, Our Stories, will produce videos for about 45 local businesses thanks to a $149,324 grant from federal seed funding. The businesses will be identified from 15 commercial corridors throughout the city.

The videos will exist in a “virtual corridor” via ShopPhilly1st, a relatively new platform promoting and connecting resources around small business growth. The chosen businesses will also work with Temple’s SBDC and VestedIn to grow their web presence, digital marketing and ecommerce strategies, gaining access to capital and other wraparound services.

The overall goal is to help businesses grow through revenue, rather than take on debt, and help them reach new markets and clients is the most straightforward way, Shenker told Technical.ly.

"We're really just trying to create a lot more places to get people to stores and even that virtual playing field."
Maura Shenker, Temple SBDC

“We’re really just trying to create a lot more places to get people to stores and even that virtual playing field,” she said. “When the pandemic hit, there were business that had resources to hire videographers, or redesign their websites, they were able to play into the new virtual world.” Those that didn’t suffered further.

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The professionally produced videos will go into a library of sorts showcasing local businesses, but the business owners will also be able to use them for self-promotion. The funding for the project comes through US Rep. Dwight Evans‘ office in Pennsylvania’s third district, so Shenker said they’re first working with businesses leaders and corridor captains in that area to select businesses to participate, though they hope to expand across the city.

“We are thrilled for Congressman Evans’ support of this important project,” said Broderick Byers, executive director of ShopPhilly1st, in a statement. “Helping neighborhood businesses compete in this virtual economy will ensure their success for years to come.”

Though the businesses Shenker assists at Temple’s SBDC range in industry and size, inflation and other global factors are undoubtedly affecting operations for them, she said. Supply chain issues, gas prices and even the time of year are having an effect on the cost and ease of doing business.

At the end of the day, she said, it doesn’t really matter why the cost of materials is more expensive. It’s the center’s job to help biz owners navigate these unusual waters.

“Not everyone needs to be an economist — you don’t need to know if it’s inflation, the war in Ukraine or the pandemic,” Shenker said. “As a business owner, you just need to know that there are issues and how you’re going to deal with them.”

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