With the help of a STEP UP Grant, Energy No Limit, a Taunton gym and training center, upgraded its website to a more engaging design.

In March, the city of Taunton launched a Sales Technology and Efficiency Professional Upgrade Program, known as the STEP UP Grant Program.

Through the program, funded by a state Urban Agenda Grant, small local businesses owned by women, ethnic minorities or veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces can apply for funds to upgrade their website, point-of-sale system and/or social media presence.

The program came to life when Bill Roth and his colleagues in Taunton’s Office of Economic and Community Development had trouble remotely ordering lunch from a small restaurant on Main Street. The restaurant’s website was hard to navigate, and its phone line was busy.

Realizing that some of Taunton’s small businesses did not have adequate technology or digital mobility to compete with larger chain businesses, the STEP UP Grant Program was created.

Taunton Grant Director Taylor Torres said that the program’s goal was to give small businesses an upgrade, or step-up, by enhancing their sales technology and operational efficiency. Such improvements not only help small businesses emerge from the pandemic, but also help them compete with larger businesses in the long term.

Within three weeks of the program’s launch, 35 businesses applied for the grant. By June, when the program concluded, Taunton helped 10 businesses with new point-of-sale systems, 14 businesses with new or redesigned websites, and 11 businesses with social media consultation and training. In total, the city assisted 19 small businesses for less than $60,000. Grant recipients included restaurants, music shops and beauticians.

“The City of Taunton is thrilled to be able to help local minority-owned small businesses with the STEP UP Grant Program,” said Mayor Shaunna O’Connell. “Any time our small businesses prosper, our entire city benefits.”

The Office of Economic and Community Development met with each business to gauge its needs. The office then contracted with web designers and social media consultants to provide services to the businesses. For point-of-sale systems, the city either worked with the business’s current vendor or brought in a new vendor to purchase upgraded hardware.

“Utilizing the Urban Agenda grant to do this is an affordable investment for small businesses that pays large dividends and returns,” said Roth, the director of Economic and Community Development. “This grant we got from the state is one of the more rewarding grants and projects I have worked on in my career, because it was able to touch and help almost 20 businesses and really make a significant change.”

Going forward, the city hopes to use American Rescue Plan Act funds to expand STEP UP to help all small businesses.

Roth and Torres said STEP UP can be easily replicated in other communities, and they are eager to share their knowledge and experience. For more information, contact at wroth@taunton-ma.gov or ttorres@taunton-ma.gov.

Written by Mark Roberts, MMA Communications Intern