City leading Toronto tech initiative to get local small businesses online


The City of Toronto is set to announce a new program, ShopHERE, aimed at helping Toronto’s independent businesses build and optimize online stores at no cost, BetaKit has learned.

Launched in conjunction with Digital Main Street, a program of the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas, the initiative will also receive support from Toronto’s technology community.

Web developers from Toronto tech will build and launch 3,000 online stores over the next three months.

ShopHERE’s goal is to help local independent small businesses and artists that currently do not have the resources to build an online store. Web developers from a number of Toronto tech companies will build and launch 3,000 online stores through the program over the next three months.

To be eligible for ShopHERE, businesses must pay commercial property taxes in Toronto, and have fewer than 10 employees (or fewer than 25 employees if they are a cafe, restaurant, or bar). The businesses also cannot be part of a corporate chain or franchise. The City estimates there are 49,051 businesses in Toronto that fit these eligibility requirements.

Global Skills Hub, Scotiabank, and General Assembly have all committed staff as development volunteers, along with TribalScale, FreshBooks, BrainStation, and Juno. Students from Toronto’s Schulich School of Business will also assist with training and assistance with digital marketing, shipping, and operations, with support from the City and Magnet.

RELATED: Digital Main Street launches across Ontario to help small businesses adopt digital practices

Several global tech companies have also signed on to support the initiative, including Shopify, which is offering templates for online stores, as well as training and support for businesses. Other companies, like Microsoft, Facebook, Google, eBay, eShipper and Mastercard, will provide support through free ad credits or cybersecurity software. Mastercard, for example, is providing small businesses with free cybersecurity assessments through its subsidiary, RiskRecon.

“Helping business owners navigate today’s challenges is our number one priority and we’re excited to continue working with Digital Main Street and the City of Toronto,” Satish Kanwar, vice president of product at Shopify, told BetaKit. “ShopHERE will open virtual doors for local businesses by setting them up with online stores built on Shopify, and helping future-proof their business by creating an omnichannel experience.”

Those interested in volunteering their time can sign up individually or as part of a company.

The initiative will launch in mid-May, with the City hoping to add 1,000 stores per month from June to August. Businesses will be able to choose the template for their online store, customized with their information and branding.

“We’re focused on Toronto small businesses and artists right now, but we’re always open to collaboration with our partners across Canada to expand important programs like ShopHERE.”
– Chris Rickett

The launch of ShopHERE follows Chris Rickett, the former manager of entrepreneurship services at the City of Toronto, returning to the municipality. In early April, Rickett was named an acting director to support both Main Street and startup businesses in Toronto as they struggle to outlast the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since Rickett’s return, the City has launched an online donation platform created by a group of tech entrepreneurs allowing the public to make direct donations to local small businesses across Canada. The platform, called Distantly, is aimed to cover businesses’ overhead costs as they weather the COVID-19 pandemic.

When asked about plans to take ShopHERE across the province or nationally, Rickett told BetaKit no such plans were currently in place, but added:

“We’re focused on Toronto small businesses and artists right now, but we’re always open to collaboration with our partners across Canada to expand important programs like ShopHERE.”

Toronto Mayor John Tory is expected to announce the program later today.

Image source Unsplash. Photo by Mwangi Gatheca.

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle is a Vancouver-based writer with 5+ years of experience in communications and journalism and a lifelong passion for telling stories. For over two years, she has reported on all sides of the Canadian startup ecosystem, from landmark venture deals to public policy, telling the stories of the founders putting Canadian tech on the map.

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