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Tech help for small Suffolk businesses with low online profiles

Stony Brook University's Manuel London, dean of the

Stony Brook University's Manuel London, dean of the College of Business, said the school is committed to doing "all we can to support economic development on Long Island." Credit: Stony Brook University/John Griffin

Suffolk County has teamed up with Stony Brook University and the Huntington online startup eGifter to offer free services for small businesses hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. 

The initiative, called Suffolk Forward, will help entrepreneurs with the technology necessary to deliver goods and services virtually. 

Suffolk Forward is open to any small business in the county that’s been affected by the shutdown of nonessential activities to slow the virus’ spread. However, officials said special attention will be paid to those struggling the most: restaurants, retailers and home improvement contractors.

Participants in the three sectors will be polled about their needs and the university will deliver the requested services.

The pandemic has revealed how many small businesses “lack the technology capabilities to transition to virtual or online services,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said last week. The new initiative “will allow local businesses to leverage expertise and resources to improve their operations and IT infrastructure.”

Help from students and faculty

Student volunteers, who are studying business, computer science and engineering, will help entrepreneurs to assess their tech needs and how to address them. The students will work under the direction of faculty members, said Ann-Marie Scheidt, the university's director of economic development. 

Entrepreneurs seeking tech assistance should contact the Small Business Development Center on campus at stonybrook.edu/sbdc/.

"In the end, we will help them achieve greater internet capability to reach out to customers and be able to sell their offerings," she said on Tuesday. 

In addition, the university’s College of Business will present a 90-minute video “Pandemic Shift” workshops for small-business owners as well as a virtual expert network, where professors and industry experts provide individual consultations.

More information can be found at nwsdy.li/SBUSUFF.

The college’s dean, Manuel London, said it is committed to doing “all we can to support economic development on Long Island. This is particularly critical now.”

Setauket venture capitalist David L. Calone, who is helping to lead the college's response to the coronavirus, said faculty members have industry experience along with their education credentials.

"This is an opportunity for small-business owners to have experts in different business areas advise them for free, whether it's a marketing problem, a cash-flow problem, an employment problem," he said. "There are a number of large companies on Long Island that use this Stony Brook expertise on an ongoing basis, and they pay for it."

eGifter's free service

eGifter had already launched Operation Main Street, an online directory of entrepreneurs who are offering gift cards for products and/or services, when Calone asked company executives to participate in Suffolk Forward.

eGifter CEO and co-founder Tyler Roye said, "We are happy to help because we're a small business on Main Street in Huntington." The company has about 20 employees at the LaunchPad business incubator, which it helped start. 

The Operation Main Street directory can be found at operationmainstreet.com. The Suffolk page has 126 retailers while the Nassau page has 99. There also are pages for chambers or commerce.

Roye said there is no cost to be in the directory and that Stony Brook students are being trained to help small businesses who haven't sold online gift cards previously.

Suffolk also is developing a job board for county residents to learn about openings at local businesses. 

The Suffolk Forward initiative follows Bellone’s establishment of a Business Recovery Unit, which fields questions from business owners about the coronavirus pandemic and surveying them about their operations. Additional information is available at suffolkcountyny.gov/bru.

The county’s Industrial Development Agency is offering manufacturers a sales-tax exemption of up to $100,000 on the purchase of equipment for making personal protection equipment and medicine. For more, send an email to info@suffolkida.org.

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