Artificial Intelligence Can Save Mom-and-Pop Businesses. Here’s How.
By Susan Gonzales and Zachary Solomon
Small businesses are suffering. More than a quarter of small businesses in the United States remain closed. In New York City, an estimated one-third of small businesses may never reopen their doors. And in Los Angeles, 7,500 small businesses closed down last year — the largest number of closures in any U.S. metropolitan area.
For Black and Latinx-owned small businesses, the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic has been particularly brutal. A survey organized by Small Business Majority in January 2021 found that almost one in five Black- and Hispanic-owned small businesses are expected to permanently close their businesses. Indeed, the impact of Covid-19 is more than two times larger for Black- and Hispanic-owned businesses than for White-owned businesses.
Covid-19 has presented unique challenges to mom-and-pop businesses and part of the problem is the vast disparity in Internet access. Only 66 percent of Black households and 61 percent of Latinx households have broadband Internet access. What this means is that a staggering percentage of Black and Latinx Americans rely on their smartphones as their sole means of Internet access. A 2019 report from the Pew Research Center found that 23 percent of Black adults and 25 percent of Latinx adults are smartphone-only users, compared to only 12 percent of whites. Despite this, we see little outreach aimed at teaching communities of color how to use these devices to save their small businesses.
Running a mom-and-pop business from a smartphone is not uncommon. Whether we like it or not, smartphones are the multitools of contemporary existence. Black and Latinx small business owners who lack the resources to secure robust Internet access use smartphones for everything — at least they try.
Our smartphones serve as holders of a massive amount of information built on the backbone of artificial intelligence (AI). Indeed, we are well past the time of AI as science fiction. AI is now at our fingertips — literally. But for so many small business owners, AI remains an inaccessible mystery. This is a tragedy, as these mom-and-pop businesses may find exactly what they need to rebuild after the Covid-19 storm if they are able to leverage the AI tools available on their mobile devices.
AI can help a business owner access and manage small business loans, plan recovery, generate online orders, set up delivery services, organize email campaigns, market services and products, organize accounting systems, and recruit, hire, and manage staff. Many of these tools can be accessed for free. Companies like MailChimp, x.ai, ManyChat, and Zoho offer free plans that include many of the AI features best suited for small businesses.
The learning curve is challenging but not impossible to surmount. Lower-income communities of color are often the last to receive information about new technologies and therefore are often deleteriously affected by them. Spreading information about artificial intelligence is essential to ensuring the survival of Black and Latinx-owned small businesses. AI has the potential to change the trajectory of America’s many failing small businesses. We can stop the freefall through education and outreach.
Today, philanthropic dollars are flowing into our communities to connect Black and Latinx small business owners with education, access, and aid. This is all good and necessary. But let’s not overlook the obvious. Now is the time to prioritize artificial intelligence not just as the hobby of the elite, but as a democratizing tool, one to be used to create greater social equity and economic growth in communities of color.
To learn about how AI can help you run a small business, read more here.