Bright and early this morning, we hopped aboard an F train and ventured not into Midtown, home of Betabeat, but rather deeper into Queens. Our destination: The Queens Business Solutions Center, an unassuming government building located on Jamaica Avenue and surrounded by bargain stores. Waiting, freshly printed, on every single seat: An updated copy of the city’s digital roadmap, dated August 2012.
Mayor Bloomberg had shlepped out to discuss his plan to bring small businesses into the Internet Age. The means: the Small Business Toolkit, a program incorporating both in-person classes at business solutions centers across the five boroughs, and a new online library of how-to guides developed in cooperation with local tech companies Mashable, Tumblr, Google and Weebly to help neighborhood entrepreneurs figure out this whole Internet thing.
While startups in the Union Square vicinity focus on disruption, few have been addressing the many neighborhood business that aren’t even online, and don’t know how to get there. Perhaps the administration got the memo about that bodega tech gap?
Arrayed behind him: A small mob of people including State Senator Malcolm Smith and a lineup of tech folk. Tumblr’s Mark Coatney and Mashable SVP Stacey Green were at the front of the room, while Google’s William Floyd and Weebly’s Nick Dellis lurked elsewhere in the crowd.
Mayor Bloomberg promised the new toolkit would “enable businesses to continue to innovate and to continue to expand and continue to create the jobs that our growing city needs.”
It didn’t cost the taxpayers a cent, he was careful to point out, and it’s free to anyone looking to build his brand online.
Much of the content seems to have been developed by Mashable, though Google and Weebly both contributed relevant guides. Tumblr also offered free themes customized for business.
Besides the guides, however, small business owners looking to bone up on the Internet can sign up for free, in-person courses. The inaugural class will be held in the very same location as the presser, on September 20. Topics will include how to launch a website, mobile payments, and the like. Teaching the class: Chief Digital Officer Rachel Haot, née Sterne.
“She’s changed her name and maybe [Ed Note: Maybe? We're pretty sure it's a done deal!] her marital status,” said Mayor Bloomberg, “but she hasn’t changed what she is doing. She is making a big difference in this city, helping people get jobs and companies employ them.”
Said Sen. Smith: “Today, as you have heard from the Mayor, we basically have said to the small business world, ‘you are very important to us.’”
Well, very important might take more than a few classes and how-to guides, but judging from the remarks of Small Business Services commish Rob Walsh, the programs are something people want: “I was out in Brighton Beach yesterday, meeting with a number of small business [owners] from the Russian community,” he said. “They’re building their businesses, they’re building their storefronts, and they need help in terms of getting on the Internet. They need help in developing their websites.”
The Mayor spun it out a little more, offering a peek into the mind of the corner store owner: ”They read about it, and they have friends who have businesses, and it’s working for them and they say, well what about me? And they don’t even know what the questions to ask are,” he said.
“Their expertise is to select merchandise or know how to market it or know how to make food,” he said. “Their exerptise is not the technical side.”