Silk Road Collection a Success Story for TechAssistLA

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LA Technology Council program receives $165,000 grant
By Stephanie Bruno, The Times-Picayune, Jan. 23, 2009 print edition / Jan. 22, 2009 online edition


Will Norris of TechAssistLA discusses Silk Road Collection.
Will Norris of TechAssistLA discusses the program
and how it can help businesses.
Photo by Michael DeMocker/The Times-Picayune
Louisiana Economic Development has awarded a $165,000 grant to a Louisiana Technology Council program that assists small businesses and nonprofits in areas impacted by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

This is the second grant that the state of Louisiana has awarded to TechAssistLA, which helps small businesses use technology to broaden their markets, improve their business practices, and develop business networks.

Robert Turner, co-owner of Magazine Street's Silk Road Collection, said today that the free technical assistance his business received through the program last year helped it grow while other firms were contracting.

"About 50 percent of our business before Katrina was out-of-state visitors to Magazine Street, but we knew we would have to improve our Web site to stay in business after the storm," Turner said. "Through TechAssistLA, we had a full review of our company systems and improved our Web site so that Web sales increased 210 percent. We also got free sales training for our staff. This help is what made it possible to stay in New Orleans and grow."

Will Norris, Director of TechAssistLA, said the initiative assisted 90 small businesses, nonprofits and entrepreneurs in 2008 by matching recipients with Louisiana Technology Council members who have expertise in requested services.

Technology Council members are paid for the work they do using grant money, but all services are free for the recipients with whom they are matched. The assistance offered through the program spans a range of topics, including marketing plans, Internet security, Web sites, document management and disaster planning.

Joy Glidden, director of Louisiana Artworks, said her nonprofit got the help from TechAssistLA in transitioning from being a part of the Arts Council of New Orleans to a standalone entity.

"When I got here two-and-a-half years ago, we had nine computer servers for the staff," Glidden said. "We were about to move into a 93,000-square-foot building and split off from the Arts Council. We got a full evaluation of our computer systems so that we were able to separate information and streamline the system. It helped make the move orderly."

In 2008, TechAssistLA offered periodic seminars that attracted 400 attendees. The group plans 13 more seminars this year that are open to the general public, not just recipients of the program's one-on-one services.

"One of the helpful things about the seminars is that they are held at night so they don't conflict with business hours," Turner said.

Entities are eligible to apply for assistance from TechAssistLA as long as they employ fewer than 50 people, are based in a part of Louisiana that was damaged by Katrina and Rita, and have a vision of how technical assistance can help them.

Qualifying organizations can apply for assistance online at www.TechAssistLA.com, where information about the 2009 seminar series will be available once plans are finalized.