by Gary Beach

New Tech Help for Small Businesses

Jan 06, 20092 mins
Web Development

Students can help design new websites—and improve business prospects—for companies in their local communities.

In several days, Barack Obama will be sworn in as the 44th president of the United States. Paraphrasing a decades-old quote from the late New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, our nation is “young again.”

Here’s an idea for how you can leverage the power of youth to accelerate the economy in 2009 and beyond. The idea is called Student Web Corps. I created it thanks to squirrels in the attic of my Cape Cod, Mass., home.

The squirrels drove me to the exterminator section of the local Yellow Pages. Of the scores of firms listed, only three had e-commerce sites, and I eventually did business with one of them.

It got me thinking: How many small businesses in America have websites? Here are the staggering stats:

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, 90 percent of the nearly six million businesses in America had fewer than 20 employees in 2005 (the last year for which data is available). Netflare, A U.K.-based Internet design and marketing company, finds that 92 percent of company websites in Britain lack an e-commerce component, and only 23 percent have updated their site since its launch. There’s no reason to think U.S. companies are much different—that is, behind the times online.

Now consider our nation’s Web-proficient youth. Student Web Corps is a new program run by Tech Corps, which is the organization I founded to recruit IT professionals to donate their time to schools. Student Web Corps aims to recruit thousands of teenagers from middle and high schools across the country and match them with owners of very small businesses in their local communities. Collaborative teams of tech-smart—and artistically talented—youth will aim to build initial websites for firms that have none. And refresh the aging ones.

I have talked about the Student Web Corps program in speeches across the nation to a sea of nodding heads. Now, it’s your turn to vote.

If you like the idea, send me a note expressing your thoughts and interest in getting a chapter launched in your hometown. Let the CIO community jump start the next generation of IT leaders by getting them involved in Student Web Corps.

I look forward to hearing from thousands of you. Write today.