SourceLink Affiliate Quarterly Conversation – December 2023

It’s a wrap, 2023! 

2023 proved to be a productive year with an impressive list of accomplishments. SourceLink affiliated websites reached a major milestone with over 1 million pageviews across all business support platforms! Everyone contributed to this significant accomplishment and it is an incredible testament to everyone’s hard work!  

Congratulations to newly elected council members to the Ecosystem Building Leadership Network (EBLN) formerly Ecosystem Building Leadership Project, including: Ifeoma Aduba, Entrepreneurship Funder’s Network, Dr. Lomax Campbell, Third Eye Network, Melissa Chapman Roberts, Federation of American Scientists, Mo Collins, International Economic Development Council, Julie Heath, Indiana University/IU Innovates, Faith Horwitt, Forward Cities, Dr. Norris Krueger, Entrepreneurial Ecosystems, Vanessa Roanhorse, Roanhorse Consulting, LLC/Native Women Lead, Denisse Rodríguez Colón, Colmena66,  Charles Ross, International Business Innovation Association, Andy Stoll, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Cecilia Wessinger, Global Entrepreneurship Network and Dr. Jim Woodell, Venn Collaborative. A special affiliate shoutout to Dr. Lomax Campbell, Vanessa Roanhorse and Denisse Rodríguez Colón! Next, EBLN will hire a full-time executive director. The EBLN is dedicated to the emergence and professionalization of the entrepreneurial ecosystem building field. Join the EBLN online community and get involved.  

Additional congratulations to: 

  • SourceLink director, Rob Williams and Mark Burdette, program coordinator at WV BusinessLink, for earning the Entrepreneurship Development Professional (EDP) certification from IEDC. 
  • Denisse Rodríguez Colón, Executive Director of Colmena66, who was selected to serve on the Consumer Advisory Board at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). She is the first Puerto Rican living in Puerto Rico that joins any of the CFBP advisory boards or councils.  
  • A shout out to WNY Be in Business who introduced their new Business Navigator video. 
  • Welcome to two new affiliate directors, Darin Rutledge, Klamath IDEA and Tamara Payne who will serve as director for Sparkyard as they transition to new ownership.  

Louisiana Economic Development/Louisiana Business Hub held a successful 2023 Louisiana Small Business Summit on October 24, 2023. They continue to bring on new regions to their statewide system. SourceLink is excited to start work with the Southeast Region including the New Orleans community.  

A big thank you to SourceLink affiliates who responded to our recent questionnaire and provided generous and productive feedback. Thanks to ChiBizHub, Colmena66, West Virginia BusinessLink, IASourceLink, Microenterprise Collaborative of Inland Southern California, Fairfax CORE, Launch Network, Louisiana BizHub, Start in Wisconsin, Source Dallas, Missouri Broadband and NWI BizHub. The questionnaire will be sent to additional affiliates after the first of the year.  

We are thrilled to announce plans are in the works for the 2024 InBIA Ebuilders Summit in October 2024, a shared convening with SourceLink, InBIA, KCSourceLink, MOSourceLink and Third Eye Network, LLC that will take place in Kansas City. Watch our socials for more details to come! 

Looking Ahead 

Krista Markley, SourceLink business development director, announced the news of a new project with the National League of Cities (NLC), City Inclusive Entrepreneurship (CIE) Grant Program beginning In the spring of 2024. With a generous grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, eight communities will work with SourceLink to identify resources, develop a SourceFinder™ poster visualization and prepare a report.  

Scott Asmus, Network Builder, SourceLink Nebraska, worked with the Omaha, Nebraska community on one of their NLC asset mapping projects. Scott said this experience was a great opportunity for Omaha to work with the state SourceLink affiliate to take a deeper dive into asset mapping. He enjoyed working with the City of Omaha and had a positive experience. In fact, he would like to work with other communities in Nebraska on similar projects.  

SourceLink Nebraska continues to increase their visibility and website traffic by embedding Personal Action Plan request forms and community calendars on websites across the state i.e. chambers, local economic development organizations, etc. This tool is for everybody! Notifications are sent to referred organizations so they can follow up.  

Krista frequently receives questions from affiliates and prospects about marketing their networks and asked affiliates to please share marketing ideas and successful campaigns, marketing budgets, etc. with her.  

Artificial Intelligence in 2024 

SourceLink has been utilizing artificial intelligence from our very start in 2003 when we created an online form much like the Personal Action Plan to respond to requests for business assistance and gave tailored information. Since then, we’ve moved beyond that single intake form to now have pages of code with artificial intelligence crafting referrals and business intelligence to entrepreneurs and small business owners.  

When it comes to using large language models of artificial intelligence in SourceLink technologies, we are focusing how these emerging tools can help our affiliates increase their operational efficiencies, improve service delivery, and provide feedback on how our systems can be improved. Our testing includes using large language models to create entire web pages and guide content, leverage The Resource Navigator® interactive database for learning, and support affiliates with updates to resource providers profiles and community events.   

Joining the conversation were Kyle Coogler, program coordinator, IASourceLink, who has been testing large language models to improve overall efficiency, Katie Smith, Manager of Business Connections, ChiBizHub, who shared her experience with for business concierge services to small business owners using chatbots and Michael Carmona, senior director, KCSourceLink and MOSourceLink shared an update on an upcoming major development to the SourceLink Personal Action Plan using machine learning.  

Kyle shared how IASourceLink is using AI on their website to better serve clients. He explained the difference between Google SGE and AI Chatbots through Search Generative Experience (SGE) uses generative AI to provide more comprehensive and informative answers to search inquiries. Google will fully release SGE to the public in 2024. SGE creates dynamic, tailored search experiences that adapt to each user’s unique needs and context (keeps users engaged and satisfied whereas traditional Search Engine Optimization (SEO) optimizes content to rank well in search results). Roughly, 90 percent of online searches are through Google. As they incorporate SGE will probably lower website traffic since users might find what they need without visiting your website. Something to consider as we move into SGE.  

To get ahead of SGE: 

  • Emphasize topical relevance. Create content that answers conversational search queries and build out your topics in natural and informative ways 
  • Prioritize the creation of personal content. Plan to create customized content to help answer and solve different questions and needs.  
  • Redefine meaningful metrics and KPIs. Web traffic may fall if AI-generated answers are thorough enough to impact click-through rates in search 
  • Focus on user engagement and retention. Diversifying content formats may help content creators gain more visibility and traction online (videos, blogs, etc.) 
  • Double down on thought leadership. AI is great at summarizing data that’s already been created, but ingenuity and new insights are still up to us (for now) 

Artificial Intelligence relies on us to create content. It is not necessarily brand-new information. We need to make sure to share quality information and provide value to visitors to our websites.  

Kyle suggests that you research the most relevant questions people are typing into Google search right now. Answer those questions in a conversational, son-salesy kind of way and improve your answers based on search results and your key metrics. Your answers will be hard coded onto your website. IASourceLink hires a 3rd party company to assist with SEO and SGE strategy and implementation. 

Traditional Chatbots have many benefits including: 

  • Delivering fast 24/7 client service  
  • Providing multilingual support 
  • Giving more consistent support 
  • Offering convenient self-service options 
  • Giving proactive client service 
  • Collecting client feedback 
  • Reducing client requests 
  • Detecting client intent for added context 
  • Boosting client engagement 
  • Reducing business costs 
  • Serving more clients at scale 

Since April 2021, IASourceLink began utilizing a third-party chatbot software they named “Sprout.” To date, they have assisted 2,158 entrepreneurs and small business owners online saving 1,000 hours of staff time.  

Expected artificial intelligence business help chatbot outcomes; 

  • Assist more clients due to more “human-like” conversations 
  • Save time answering repetitive questions about partners and resources 
  • Increase key metrics such as referrals to resource partners 
  • Promote Resource Partners in a unique way that analyzes their entire profile – not just their filters/tags 
  • Create a seamless pipeline between team and Resource Partners 
  • Increase client feedback on both the bot as well as the website and offerings  

A new IASourceLink chatbot will be available in spring 2024. 

Katie Smith, ChiBizHub, reported low utilization of their business support chatbot on their website. Since relaunching their rebranded website in April 2022, approximately 2000 visitors were recorded, mostly those directed from their business partner website, Allies for Community Business. Currently, the site receives approximately 500 visitors per month and no more than five users of the chatbot in one month. Katie reports that most engagements with entrepreneurs occur at events and then follows-up with a phone call and develops a customized personal action plan. ChiBizHub relys mostly on 1-on-1 connections and word of mouth to get word out about the Chicago network.  

Michael Carmona, KCSourceLink and MOSourceLink, is working with the SourceLink team to develop an automated customized personal action plan wizard. In 2020, the KCSourceLink team delivered approximately 8,300 Personal Action Plans to entrepreneurs and business owners, including more than 31k referrals. This takes a lot of staff time to research appropriate resources for each plan. The automated Personal Action Plan will save staff time so they can gain skills in other areas to better serve entrepreneurs across the state of Missouri and in the Kansas City area.  

To begin developing the wizard, the team reviewed the most common questions entrepreneurs have asked such as startup assistance, mentorship, etc. and the most requested services from SourceLink Pro℠ reports. They conducted an audit of each resource partner profile to make sure they are providing the most current information. Although automated, the Personal Action Plan still feels customized for the individual.  

SourceLink continues working on developing AI models to share with affiliates including our upcoming Personalized Action Plan wizard to be deployed in early 2024. If you and your team are interested in testing the wizard, please let us know. 

SourceLink Affiliate Quarterly Conversations 

SourceLink Affiliate Quarterly Conversations are a benefit for SourceLink clients. Agendas include topics, speakers and discussions suggested by our community of network and ecosystem builders and is an opportunity for the SourceLink network to share best practices and with one another. For more information about becoming a SourceLink affiliate and to join our conversations, please contact Krista Markley, Director of Business Development.