By Mary Kay Bowman, Global Head of Buyer, Seller, Core and Platform Products
Even in the best of times, small businesses face challenges that can make it difficult to succeed, from finding capital and managing cash flow to finding new ways to serve their customers and drive their business forward by investing in new digital tools. Small businesses have to hustle to keep up with the ever-changing needs of their customers. The impact of the pandemic exacerbated those challenges, with thousands being forced to pivot or close their physical stores as consumers hunkered down and did their shopping and buying online.
An example of changing customer expectations that small businesses needed to respond to was the shopping that was happening in-stores. According to Visa research, nearly half of consumers said they would not shop at a store that required contact with a cashier or a shared device to pay. Since last summer, Visa Street Teams have visited thousands of businesses as part of our commitment to help digitally enable 50 million small businesses, providing contactless payment information and in-store signage inviting customers to pay touch-free. Around the world, 82 percent of small businesses have been resilient using these challenges as a catalyst to modernize their operations during the pandemic.
While small businesses are the economic heart and cultural soul of our communities, they have also been disproportionately at risk during these hard times, and those owned by women and people of color even more so. We asked owners — particularly those in underrepresented groups — what they needed as the country reopens, and the answer was loud and clear that they needed practical tools to start or upgrade their digital presence.
Through Visa’s She’s Next program, in partnership with D.C.-based Black Girl Ventures, we’re launching a hyperlocal program to support revitalization in communities with the highest concentration of Black-owned businesses in the U.S. : Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami and Washington, D.C. With an emphasis on businesses owned by women, the program will offer new digital and technology resources, grants and direct community mentorships.
Black women businesses owners in D.C. told us that additional resources would help them invest more in technology (35 percent), new products and services (31 percent) or advertising and marketing (29 percent). To address these needs, we are kicking off the revitalization program in D.C. this week with the launch of the first U.S. pilot of our Tap to Phone solution, in partnership with mobile Smartphone technology and solution provider, ZmBIZI. Simply put: the pilot turns Android phones into point-of-sale acceptance devices. This enables sellers to enter the digital economy with the simplicity of downloading an app. Think of the possibilities that could come from lighting up phones around the world as payment acceptance devices – that’s our vision. We’ve seen great success with our initial launch across more than 30 countries and are thrilled to bring the technology to the U.S. with ZmBIZI.
We’ve also created “commerce in a box:” a curated selection of offers, discounts and bundles from Visa and its partners designed to help small businesses with whatever they need to move their business forward digitally, from accepting digital payments, building an e-commerce site and marketing to their audience in new ways to providing online tools to run and protect their business.
With digital payment transaction safety top of mind for many, one of the key offers in commerce in a box is from Authorize.net and BigCommerce . Together, they team up to offer small businesses a quick way to build or upgrade their e-commerce footprint, start accepting digital payments and protect against fraud and other business risks. Our street teams are hitting the road again to deliver commerce in a box to thousands of small businesses in Washington, D.C., and beyond, as part of the six-city revitalization effort.
And finally, 60 Black women entrepreneurs — 10 in each city — will be awarded $10,000 as part of the She’s Next Grant Program, a year of coaching through IFundWomen and offers from Visa partners like Intuit QuickBooks, Finagraph and Invoiced, which will provide subscriptions to tools and platforms needed to help manage the front- and back-end operations of their businesses.
With nearly 4.5 million business applications filed here in the U.S. in 2020 — the highest number on record since 2010 — there is a huge entrepreneurial opportunity. Revitalization and rebuilding are happening now. It is our goal and our responsibility to help ensure these entrepreneurs are once again ready to thrive in the digitally accelerated economy that is our “new normal.” By boosting small businesses, we can support economic, community, gender and social equity.
For more information on the She’s Next initiative and to subscribe to become a part of the global network, visit: visa.com/shesnext.
 Visa’s Back to Business Study – 2021 Outlook
 NY Fed Report