BY JOVAN HAYE
The recent SXSW Festival brought together business owners from all over the world who owe much of their success to an increasingly connected world. Though it may not have been at the forefront of the festival, the proliferation of high-speed Internet has also been a major boon to minority entrepreneurs right here in Florida. That’s because broadband makes it easier than ever to start a business and to grow one’s consumer base far beyond the borders of the state.
As we work to empower our community for the future, we should look to broadband as one powerful tool to accomplish this mission.
Retail is but one industry where minority entrepreneurs have been boosted by broadband. Unlike years past, aspiring retailers no longer have to come up with the massive sums needed for overhead costs, such as rent for a storefront. Now one’s own home can serve as a storefront, with the living room its factory and distribution center.
Before the proliferation of high-speed Internet, a successful shop had to be in an area with heavy traffic, making retail locations prohibitively expensive. With broadband comes ready access to a national clientele – an account on a site like Craigslist, eBay or Etsy is all that is needed for retail success.
Online vendors can also rely on their customers to do their advertising for them, eliminating the need for costly ad agencies. My company, PostShareSell, has taken this idea one step further.
From our home base in Tampa, we have created an online retail service that employs social media as part of a vendor’s overall strategy (social commerce), allowing users to share their goods with friends and family on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms. The idea is that the people in one’s social network are the most likely to buy one’s goods. To encourage sharing, the site offers prizes and contests on a regular basis.
Innovative companies like ours are flourishing all over the web. From 2000 to 2011, for example, minority self-employment in Florida rose by 53 percent – a larger increase than any other demographic. These trailblazers boost the overall economy and lower barriers of entry for other small businesses, making it easier for them to stand on their own two feet. Their initiative has been one reason for the success of black-owned businesses, not just in our state but also around the country, which have grown three times faster than the national average.
There is more room to grow, however. Above all, we need to get even more of our community online. A recent Pew survey found that, in 2014, computer use among African-Americans stood at only 77% – below the national average.
Getting more minorities connected to broadband is vital to the success of future business owners in our community. For one thing, the more individuals and families go online, the larger the pool of potential costumers a new business can reach. In addition, giving minority youth access to a computer and high-speed Internet helps build digital literacy skills that can be parlayed into a successful new business venture.
With minorities making up nearly half of Florida’s population – 43 percent, according to the 2010 Census – the future of Florida’s economy truly hinges on the fate of its minority entrepreneurs.
To build on the progress we’ve made so far, we will need even more private investment in our nation’s broadband infrastructure. Research by the Progressive Policy Institute found that last year, the six largest broadband providers invested over $50 billion in their infrastructure. This investment strengthens networks, forcing competitors to increase investments and improve services. The circle of investment and competition has resulted in different companies and technologies—like satellite, phone lines, cable, wireless and fiber—bringing broadband services to consumers across the country.
To continue to promote this investment, we need to stay away from heavy-handed Internet regulations that discourage investment and innovation. Today, we face a turning point for our country’s broadband networks. Members of Congress have expressed interest in updating the Communications Act for the first time since 1996 – a time when iPhones did not yet exist and the Internet was generally accessed through dial-up connections. Under the act, services like “telephone” and “cable” are separated into different regulatory silos. This segmented regulatory system is out of step with today’s reality, where video, voice and data can be transmitted along the same network. The technology advancements we are experiencing today has been driven by cable, telephone, fiber-optic, wireless and satellite companies all competing with each other to provide high-speed Internet service.
As we continue to rethink the rules that govern our nation’s networks, we must remember how much minorities stand to gain from accessible high-speed Internet. By promoting investment into broadband, we can help even more aspiring business owners grow into successful models for the community.
Jovan Haye, CEO of PostShareSell
Jovan Haye, a former Tampa Bay Buccaneer, is the CEO of PostShareSell, an online social commerce company based in Tampa.