Comcast’s Digital Equity Network is an interconnected group of organizations in the Pacific Northwest that have a connection with each other and work collectively toward a common purpose to increase access and adoption of the internet, help people get online, build digital skills, and open doors to economic mobility. Each day during National Digital Inclusion Week, Oct. 2-6, 2023, we are highlighting local digital equity partners, resources, and activities aimed at bridging the digital divide in the Pacific Northwest.
As reported last year in Fast Company: “To stay competitive—and, in many cases, solvent—small businesses have had to retool their operations to cater to customers embracing the convenience and relative safety of digital buying. That’s meant retailers shifting to online buying options for customers, restaurants pivoting to online ordering and curbside pickup, and delivery drivers taking digital payments instead of cash.” However… “Small business owners face a range of barriers in this area, from access to hardware and software to the skills they need to effectively integrate these technologies. They also may lack skills that are compatible with today’s digital environment.”
Small businesses play a critical role in our local economies and are also at risk of being left behind in the digital divide. That is why it is crucial to showcase the work of GSBA (Greater Seattle Business Association) and Kay Tita, who are working with us to close the gap of inequities of access to technology, funding, and digital skills training for small business owners in our communities.
GSBA, Washington State’s LGBTQ and allied chamber of commerce frequently convenes a diverse collection of voices from all industries to truly listen and understand the concerns of the business community. GSBA then works to connect them with the tools and resources they need in the moment to succeed.
When small businesses are locked out of resources, it has real and devastating impacts on the future prospects of entire neighborhoods and cities. That is why GSBA, in partnership with Comcast, established the Ready for Business Fund in 2020. The Ready for Business Fund microgrants were Initially intended as a pandemic recovery fund, but have now become a sustainability fund that prioritizes support for LGBTQ+-, BIPOC-, and women-owned small businesses.
The Ready for Business Fund offers low-barrier and no-cost access to microgrants that allow small business owners in need to invest in their business the best way they see fit. This year, GSBA will reconnect with previous Ready for Business (RFB) recipients to understand the current digital equity and financial needs of small business owners. Together, Comcast and GSBA will survey previous recipients to gain insight into small business owners’ need for technology, safety & security equipment, software, capital, education, and training. Secondly, we’ll enact a plan to fill the gaps related to digital equity and further support these small businesses with business training and technical assistance.
Comcast also partners with Kay Tita to offer critical digital resources to support Seattle’s small businesses most impacted by the digital divide. In 2021, we contributed approximately $40,000 to Kay Tita, a social impact nonprofit, who used the funds to implement a Digital Sales Access Program (DSAP) supporting 50 small businesses by equipping them with a point-of-sales (POS) system and connecting participating businesses with the tools and training needed to pivot their operations to a new digital system.
The system allowed small business owners to grow their business by switching from cash-only to accepting debit, credit and other digital forms of payment. This program increases businesses’ ecommerce capacity and improves digital literacy, financial awareness and overall business health. That is why this year, the DSAP program has expanded to Tacoma, in partnership with the City of Tacoma and funded with a $90,000 Community
Development Block Grant (CDBG). Comcast is investing an additional $35,000 to sponsor a 2-day DSAP Summit in Tacoma next month (October 2023), expand outreach to increase DSAP participants identified with less access to such programs and develop the digital-friendly summit curriculum content.