Digital Service Squad helped local businesses cope with COVID-19 crisis: report

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Efforts by the Digital Service Squad (DSS) to assist local businesses bolster their online presence also helped them cope with the COVID-19 shutdown, according to a staff report.
“Many participating businesses shared they were better prepared to endure COVID-19 shut-downs because of their work with the squad. In Recovery Plan consultations, one business stated that prior to meeting with the DSS they had zero online presence. Through the squad’s coaching and support, the business built a new website, small e-commerce shop, and active social media channels,” wrote Amanda Kelly, senior business innovation and entrepreneurship officer, in the report.
“These foundational pieces helped them act quickly when closures were mandated: the owner was immediately able to expand their e-commerce shop to sell all products online, and communicate updates with their loyal customer base through social media.”
Last July the City received $40,000 from the Ontario Business Improvement Area Association (OBIAA), in partnership with the Province, to launch a DSS Initiative through the Digital Main Street program. The intent was to have the squad offer free one-on-one online-related coaching to local businesses. Up to 10 hours of coaching on website development, social media usage, e-commerce stores, and other digital technologies, was provided.
“Barrie received four times the standard funding amount offered through this grant, in order to extend business eligibility to four areas: the Downtown Barrie BIA district, Bayfield Street (South of Highway 400), Dunlop Street West (East of Highway 400), or Essa Road (East of Highway 400). Eligible participants were independently owned businesses with physical locations in these jurisdictions,” reads the report.
The Henry Bernick Entrepreneurship Centre at Georgian College, the Downtown Barrie BIA, the Sandbox Centre, and the Barrie Public Library each played a role in supporting the initiative. Three Georgian College students were brought on as independent service providers to deliver the services. The three entrepreneurs have since graduated and currently run their own digital media firms.
The squad’s mandate ran out in May, after being launched last October. However, there may be life yet for the project.
“The OBIAA has received new funding from the (federal government) to open a second round of the DSS program. Applications open in July 2020, and service delivery will conclude in February 2021. The Economic & Creative Development Department is preparing to submit a request, and will provide an update to council if funding is successful,” reads the report.