Local networks and communities; our post-lockdown business saviours

Despite the massive global impact of the coronavirus pandemic, it has shown itself to be an intensely local crisis as well.

Local networks and communities; our post-lockdown business saviours

Despite the massive global impact of the coronavirus pandemic, it has shown itself to be an intensely local crisis as well. With local lockdowns becoming a fact of life in parts of the UK, everyone wants to know how their area, their town, and even their street is doing both in terms of handling the virus and the inevitable economic fallout.

Whilst the data doesn’t exist yet, a Reach survey has highlighted that 85% of adults agree that community spirit is more important than ever and 76% say that local News brands are a big part of this. This is just one indication of people focusing locally. Just as people have turned to local news and support networks to stay informed, businesses and entrepreneurs need to engage with their local networks of peers to have the best chance of weathering the economic impact of the post lockdown world. This means going beyond vague ideas of shopping local – small businesses and entrepreneurs must focus on sharing advice and methods of mutual support.

In many ways this is the perfect time for this. With the pandemic putting people off of traveling for work, businesses around the UK have adapted quickly to video calls and limiting movement to the bare minimum. Even now, as we once again venture out into the world, the appetite among start-ups and entrepreneurs to travel to the major city hubs for networking and face to face meetings is greatly reduced. With the business world in crisis, local peer support is proving more important than ever.

In fact, the pandemic has underlined just how useful local business networks have become. In our home county of Norfolk, our SupaPass technology is being used by the local LEP – New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, Norfolk Enterprise Festival, and Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, amongst other organisations, to create mobile apps and content websites which can become central hubs for local businesses to share information, do business, learn from each other, provide peer support, and receive the latest advice from business experts in the region. 

A series of projects aimed at supporting local businesses and to bring business owners together are benefiting from speed to launch, which is what we have been so fortunate to be able to provide by using our SupaPass technology, that can create an instant content hub dedicated to a specific community. Organisations need sophisticated state of the art technology for their online events and for sharing content after the event in a controlled private space, and we have been lucky to provide them with the right technology, quickly, at the right time.

I have long recognised the importance of local support networks and, when I was first setting up my business SupaPass, which creates instant Netflix-type mobile apps and websites for content hubs and community, I also co-founded SyncNorwich – a local networking group – so I could find like-minded people with whom I could build a team.

It started with 12 of us in a pub, but was the right thing at the right time and quickly grew to over 1,500 members, with spin-off groups, weekend hackathons, conferences and other events that brought the community together and created an environment of creativity and peer support, which has resulted in the birth of many new startups and tech companies in the local area.

Through the birth of SyncNorwich and other local groups and accelerators that emerged, Norwich has a thriving startup and tech community, which has included local angel investing, IPOs, exits, failures, and exciting new ventures, and the local community shows each other tremendous support through the highs and lows, always here to help each other in times of difficulty and to learn on the inside from each other successes. It is a special community, but I know it is not unique. Communities are popping up everywhere, and tools like Discord and Zoom are making real time collaboration and sharing of ideas easier than ever, even from our pods of isolation.

The last few months have shown that technology is enabling us to be closer than ever. Now you can attend a meetup whilst feeding your children and doing bedtime, or finishing off some work before a deadline, and we are able to fit in so much more to the everyday without having to spend time travelling.

Technology for virtual conferences has improved so rapidly that you can even achieve the same level of networking, meeting new people and making deals that we used to at physical conferences, but all digitally. We have been excited to see how our SupaPass technology has become part of this solution for conferences, working with both local conferences and also Guinness World Record beating global virtual conferences.

Now everyone is local. But the importance of connecting and supporting those in your region is more important than ever, as we all struggle to work out what the new normal will look like.

There are many long term benefits that adopting a local focus can offer. For one thing, it allows people with accessibility issues to more easily participate in networking. For another, reducing or eliminating travel time allows more time-strapped entrepreneurs to make better use of the time that they do have. Prioritizing working with local experts and investors has even been helping the redistribution of capital away from the major cities and see it spread more equally. 

With the advancement of modern communications technology, and adoption of decentralised working being accelerated by the current pandemic, localised business groups and organisations now have an unprecedented opportunity to redefine how businesses can support one another. The question is, will we see this change stick around as we slowly begin to drift back towards some kind of normal?

Juliana Meyer
Juliana Meyer

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