When the pandemic hit, people lined up outside Taos Hive to access its WiFi.
The University of New Mexico-housed center hadn’t officially opened its doors yet — it wouldn’t until June 2021, delayed a month by the pandemic– but it had the fastest broadband in town, says Rose Reza, the center’s director.
To an extent not widely realized in city tech communities, small businesses and workers in rural areas remain offline – a situation highlighted by the pandemic. In Taos, where Reza estimates the economy is about 70% reliant on tourism, the Hive aims to fix that basic problem by teaching entrepreneurs how to build an online presence.
HIVE stands for Hub of Internet-based Vocation and Education. Last year, the center hosted classes and seminars for its community to learn the basics of building a website and digital marketing. Reza also connected local manufacturers with her connections at Walmart, where she previously was a regional vice president.
Now, the center is building up its mentorship base, with people such as website developers, IT experts, skilled videographers and entrepreneurs, who will help the community thrive online. It’s goal is to elevate the top 20% — those with the most digital knowledge in the community — and the bottom 20% — those struggling with basics such as website design or newsletters. “When you focus on those, you’re always going to raise the bar,” Reza said.
The center was designed through community listening sessions. There, members would share their needs and questions with Reza and other center partners. The point was to help entrepreneurs with what they need rather than what the center thinks they need. Questions entrepreneurs asked included: How do I make sales? How can technology support me? Who is my competition?
Its services have won it the grand prize from Minds that Move Us, a group that challenges organizations to build solutions that build social equity and economic mobility, and recognition from Digital Promise, a U.S. congress-created nonprofit for accelerating education innovation. The center runs on support from The University of New Mexico -Taos — which covers the center’s curriculum — electric utility company Kit Carson Electric Cooperative — which provides the center’s space, electricity and broadband — and coworking space FatPipe New Mexico. Its budget is $400,000, including in-kind funding. The combination of funding is key, Reza said. “ There’s no way I can manage being 100% funded by grants,” she said. “I can’t manage the deliverables.”
Hive plans to launch an incubator for business owners, which will include a final pitch competition with cash prizes (Reza is unsure what the exact amount will be). It’s also planning events with angel investor groups to open doors for some of its entrepreneurs.
Reza’s Rules for Building an Online Presence
- Use a platform that’s easy for you to manage. This will be different for everyone, she said. Whether it’s Shopify or Wix or another service, make sure it’s painless to use.
- Look at your brand. What’s your logo? Your mission statement? Who is your customer? Know these pieces well to develop a strong identity online and in the real world.
- Spend time on visuals. Compelling photos draw people in. Video is also an important tool to share your brand and products, she said.
- Think about SEO from the start. Search Engine Optimization draws search traffic to your website. What are the keywords? “That doesn’t come after, that comes as you start developing that website,” Reza said.
- Don’t forget about social media. Not promoting on social media is like stocking a product on a shelf and never drawing any attention to it, Reza said. Can you tap into influencers with huge followings?
This story has been updated to clarify how the center receives support.