NORCAT aiming to turn ‘bricks into clicks’ with new business program

NORCAT, a Sudbury innovation and technology centre, is hoping a new business program will get bricks and mortar shops, hurt by sluggish sales during the pandemic, online.

The program is called Future Proof, and it will feature a partnership with Toronto-based Digital Main Street, a service that helps businesses build an online presence.

Several government agencies are funding the program, which has a tight deadline – it runs until March 2021. 

The partnership comes as the Canadian Federation of Businesses recently announced a grim statistic: only 62 per cent of Ontario downtown businesses are open, and 26 per cent are making normal sales.

Hugh Kruzel, who’s helping lead the NORCAT project, said the intent is to help businesses turn “bricks into clicks.”

An interested business goes through a simple application process to be considered for the program, Kruzel said, and then the work begins. 

“[Businesses] get one dedicated team which includes a graphic designer,a UX or user experience person, and  a UI or user interface person,” Kruzel said. 

“They basically help the company or business get online and be present online in a way that people actually are attracted to that web site and really want to do commerce, want to do business.”

“If we can help, if we can be of assistance in making sure that company, whether it just gets a little bit further ahead, then we know we’re doing the right thing,” Kruzel said. 

We’re here to help people not just survive, but thrive.– Hugh Kruzel, NORCAT

“And that’s what we’re here for, to help people not just survive, but thrive.”

The pandemic also showed how essential an online presence can be for any business owner, Kruzel said.

“People are not necessarily entering businesses,” he said. “People are shying away from doing the face-to-face even more.” 

“The way to access a new blouse or pair of pants or shoes, or services…they direct you to their website. They say ‘before we have any more conversation, have a look at our website. Have a look at what we’ve got available for you.'”

“And if you order online you’re not coming in contact with your bubbles not being broken,” Kruzel said. 

Kruzel said he’s also excited about one of the ancillary benefits to the program: the potential to provide jobs for people in the management and graphic design sectors.

“The young people that are engaged in this, they’re going to come up with a whole new set of skills,” he said. 

“When [employers ask] ‘have you ever managed a team?’ Yes I have managed a team. ‘Have you ever worked in a team?’ Yes I’ve worked in a team. This is a huge piece, I think, an unspoken piece about this whole program.”

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