If there’s one constant that has emerged during the past year of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s the need for innovation and fresh thinking. Industries of all types have had to adapt to challenging situations and along the way, tech companies have enabled those adaptations.
The 5-10-15 Main Street Innovation Challenge, designed by TechAlliance, will inspire a collaborative recovery process for main street businesses across Southwestern Ontario. Innovative and technology-enabled solutions will bring forth new, inclusive, and disruptive approaches for economic recovery and community prosperity.
In February, the challenge recipients were announced and their community-driven initiatives are now underway.
The first featured recipient of the challenge, Locorum, began as a blog featuring local businesses in the London area, businesses that founder Matthew Santagapita thought more people needed to hear about. As a realtor, he knew the value of supporting small businesses, but he also knew how hard small business owners work to succeed.
Locorum is actually Latin for “the protector of local people,” but the way it protects locals is by rewarding them for supporting the small businesses in their community – because those small business owners are locals, too.
The blog evolved into a rewards program, built to encourage Londoners to support local, Canadian-owned businesses. Customers who shopped or ate at businesses of member companies received 2% cashback to use toward future purchases.
However, with the pandemic closing down brick-and-mortar businesses, in some cases indefinitely, Santagapita and his team decided last fall to accelerate their plans to pivot toward an eCommerce platform. Locorum’s reward program became a way to incentivize the people of London to keep local businesses afloat. “It would be nice if there was just one universal area where people could go that truly drives traffic to and supports local businesses,” he said.
Locorum is disrupting the eCommerce space with its commitment to putting merchants first rather than the customers, as is normally the case. The reason for this, Santagapita said, is to make it as easy as possible for small business owners to add eCommerce to their sales arsenal.
“Small business owners work long enough hours,” he explained. No one has time to spend an extra 10 hours a week maintaining a website, no matter how much more exposure they’re getting.
Vendors will spend the most amount of time setting up their shop, or their connection to their shops if they already have eCommerce, and Locorum then connects in the background through API. Inventory management happens in real-time on the website, which not only optimizes the customer experience but also reduces the chance of any product being oversold.
How does Santagapita plan to use the funds from the 5-10-15 Main Street Innovation Challenge? He’ll be creating a job – hiring a CTO to support the website as they look to grow and improve functionality from the vendors’ side, which involves developing new tech in the background.
The new site launched in November of 2020, and they’ve already rebuilt or made significant upgrades to the product. Whenever they do so there is s a soft launch, during which the team makes a number of orders to determine the pain points in the system from both the vendor and the customer sides. On each occasion that they have sent back a laundry list of “clunky” functions, the developers have gone above and beyond to improve the site’s functionality. And it blows Santagapita away.
Locurum intends to be Amazon-like for small businesses across Canada, with a long-term plan for the platform to move beyond locals supporting locals. They want small businesses on one side of the country to be able to show potential customers on the other side of the country how fantastic their goods are, and then enable them to purchase and ship those fantastic goods out.
It’s this kind of adaptive thinking that results in technology that will usher main street businesses into a new era of connection with their customers – both the existing ones and those in the future.