Tools for Change opens e-center to serve area small business owners
By Mindy Hagen
In an effort to alleviate what executives call the digital divide, Tools for Change, an economic development coalition, has opened an e-business training center in Liberty City.
The center, 6015 NE Seventh Ave., is to become home to classes providing Internet training and access to computers for small minority business owners. The initiative begins with an open house from 3-5 p.m. Friday where business owners can learn about the upcoming classes.
Elaine Black, executive director of Tools for Change, said the program costs $25. She said sessions would be offered in English, Spanish and Creole.
"I think the minority business community will respond," Ms. Black said. "E-business is the way of the future. These classes will give companies the ability to market themselves around the country."
During the classes, small minority business owners will be trained in setting up websites for their company, Ms. Black said, enabling them to compete in the virtual marketplace.
Tools for Change, she said, has partnered with 1hemisphere - an electronic commerce system that offers products and services to small businesses - in offering the equipment to the companies.
Jose Matto, president of 1hemisphere, said his company gave Tools for Change the hardware, machines and infrastructure needed for the classes. Mr. Matto also said 1hemisphere will offer the businesses Internet-readying tools for $14.95.
"The system would usually cost $500 for set up and $50 to run," Mr. Matto said. "All of that will be waived."
Because 70% of the companies in Florida are small businesses, Mr. Matto said, members of the private sector have to help one other learn the advantages of the e-marketplace.
"The Internet is no longer a fad," he said. "Most companies not involved in the Internet will not be around in 2 years. The first place customers go to be informed about business is the web. If businesses aren't e-commerce enabled, they will be disadvantaged."
Ms. Black said this "digital divide" particularly affects minority businesses, making the e-business center's location ideal.
"We want to train minority entrepreneurs to be e-business ready," she said. "There is a definite gap in computer literacy and the training needs to begin."
Although becoming Internet-ready should be a top goal of many businesses, some do not have time to learn the technology on their own, Mr. Matto said.
"If we give the companies the tools, it may take the owners 5 to 6 hours to become comfortable with them," he said. "These classes enable us to hold their hands and have them learn about the Internet in a training environment while saving time."