There’s been a lot of talk about the need for the tech community to stop ignoring, and start developing products for, low- and middle- income individuals. But where have we seen startups making an impact with underserved markets? One area of innovation that has been particularly fruitful is support of small and local businesses (read: job creators) - a key priority for many municipalities. And it should be for technologists, too.
The few companies that have aggressively targeted the challenges of small and local businesses have cultivated armies of deeply loyal customers. It should also be noted that these businesses provide significant economic value to the communities in which they operate. From mom and pop restaurants to local maintenance shops, small and local businesses provide 55% of all jobs and 66% of all new jobs since the 1970s (many to low and middle income earners).
One example of outsized impact from the startup community is the business review and information website Yelp , which provides a meaningful revenue boost to the businesses it serves. Another example is Airbnb , which encourages tourist activity that benefits small and local businesses. Interestingly, many Airbnb hosts are also generating income that helps them afford to stay in their homes.
At Tumml, we see small and local business services as a growing theme in the pool of startups applying to our program. Nearly three in ten applicants (28 percent) for our last cohort were providing services to small and local businesses. These companies are responding to unmet needs (read: market opportunities) in really interesting ways.
Take Sovi , an online platform that connects community members with events from local businesses. Sovi provides a toolkit for local business venues to promote themselves, target likely customers, and track their performance against other businesses in the same area. Another example is Feeding Forward , a mobile service that helps businesses and colleges recover excess food by donating it to the underserved.
According to the Small Business Administration, there are 23 million small businesses in the US, and they account for 54 percent of all US sales. Many of these small businesses are mom and pop shops, such as the seven in ten restaurants nationally with only a single location. Clearly, small and local business services present a lucrative and largely untapped opportunity for tech startups.
Today, we begin accepting applications for our Summer 2014 cohort, and we hope to see more products dedicated to small and local businesses_._ For entrepreneurs looking to make an impact in cities, these services present a real opportunity to help the local community and develop a scalable business. We’ll keep you posted about what kinds of small and local business service-focused applicants we see!
About the authors
Julie Lein and Clara Brenner are the Co-Founders of Tumml, an urban ventures accelerator with the mission of empowering entrepreneurs to solve urban problems. A nonprofit, Tumml’s goal is to identify and support the next generation of Zipcars and Revolution Foods. Through a customized, four month program, Tumml invites early stage companies into its office space to receive hands-on support, seed funding, and services to help grow their businesses and make significant impact on their communities.