Temple University Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Director Maura Shenker wants to help small business owners make strides in the digital space.
The new PA Digital Transformation eCommerce Program (PADTEP) will build on the work SBDC has been doing during the pandemic to assist these entrepreneurs in pivoting to meet their customers’ needs. In 2020, the center received CARES Act funding from the U.S. Small Business Administration to help local small business owners get their businesses online.
“A lot of people never had a website before, and if they had a website, they needed payment [capabilities] for ecommerce,” Shenker told Technical.ly. “A lot of people think a Facebook presence is a social media strategy, but that’s not quite right.”
Through working with small business owners over the pandemic, Shenker and her colleagues found that they frequently struggled because of a lack of information about what resources were available, which ultimately caused some businesses to permanently close. Many had been solely dependent on foot traffic at their physical locations — which disappeared amid COVID-19.
Funding for PADTEP consists of $1.2 million from the federal Economic Development Administration and $300,000 from the PA Department of Community Economic Development. (Initial CARES Act funding to support the SBDC ended in September 2021, Shenker said.) PADTEP’s two-year program will consist of core business education coupled with digital skills needed for ecommerce and a focus on building digital literacy among small business owners.
“There is such a digital divide for those who have computers at home and online access” and those who don’t, she said, “so we’re offering computer classes at Temple to make sure people have skills they need to maintain a website. There’s no point in teaching how to build a site if they don’t have core skills to maneuver.”
Shenker believes that providing small business owners with access to digital education resources can give them an advantage and help them survive. In addition to learning how to create ecommerce sites, small business owners will learn digital skills to sustain them, as well as basic cybersecurity practices to protect their sites. One-on-one consultations are also available to help business owners as they learn.
Being more physically present in Philadelphia with locations throughout the city is a top priority as the SBDC rolls out PADTEP. For more than a decade, its office was in Beech Interplex, a CDFI and CDC located near Temple’s campus on Cecil B. Moore Avenue. Now, the SBDC will be decentralizing and expanding to locations in Kensington, North Philadelphia and West Philadelphia to better meet small business owners throughout the city.
Offering office hours that are accessible to entrepreneurs with day jobs is also important, Shenker said, so SBDC will offer services in evenings and weekends to accommodate small business owners’ schedules.
While some existing services are already available, Shenker said hiring is currently underway to fill positions at the SBDC. As those positions are filled, more services will be available. Her goal is for PADTEP to be in full service by the holiday season.
Michael Butler is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism. -30-