How smaller, AI-advantaged businesses can compete with much bigger competitors

Turn on the news, go online, read a paper, artificial intelligence is everywhere. This new frontier can create uncertainty for businesses. And for small to mid-sized businesses, the future can seem especially daunting.

But AI has huge potential to benefit smaller businesses. It can level the playing field with larger companies through analytics, automation and increased productivity. Smaller businesses can be nimble as they explore technologies and embrace change.

“There are going to be a lot of barriers for big companies that are trying to move quickly, whereas the small companies aren’t going to have a lot of those barriers,” says Paul Roetzer, founder of the Cleveland-based Marketing Artificial Intelligence Institute and Marketing AI Conference (MAICON). “The key is to give smart people with domain knowledge — people who think about their industry, their company — give them the fundamentals of what AI is and how it works and how it can be applied, and let them start thinking about their own business differently.”

But how do small and mid-sized businesses start integrating AI into their practices? Roetzer recommends businesses establish AI councils and leaders. These individuals can identify tools and classes in the rapidly changing space that are best suited for your workforce.

In addition, regional business groups are great forums for peer-to-peer learning about how businesses are using AI in practical applications. Recently, Greater Cleveland Partnership hosted the Cleveland AI Meetup. The group is a useful starting point for those interested in learning more about AI, with meetings focused on research and project presentations. The Council of Smaller Enterprises (COSE) has launched an online peer-to-peer Education Hub that includes AI articles, too.

In Ohio, the Tech Cred program can assist employers with AI and machine learning credentials for their workforce. Any Ohio-registered employer that employs Ohio resident W-2 employees is eligible, and employers of all sizes and industries are encouraged to apply. Numerous AI classes are among credential offerings.

Many regional companies showcase the potential of AI. Thrivable, a health care startup that gathers patient experience data, has used AI for impressive growth since launching in 2021.

“It’s hard to go from nothing to something as a new company. I look at AI as a great opportunity for us,” says founder David Edelman. “We can use data more effectively and target respondents. We collect enormous amounts of data not found elsewhere. We see an opportunity to take patient experience data and develop the algorithms of the future. Before it might have taken teams of data analysts. We can turn it around in a 30-second prompt.”

Bill Baraona, founder and president of Flex Media, says AI saves time so he can focus on creativity.

“We are always experimenting with new AI technology, but for the most part, we only utilize AI technology that helps us cut down manual processes so we can spend more time tweaking the image or adjusting the story,” he says. “For our administrative use, we are utilizing AI that is integrated into our CRM PipeDrive, LinkedIn and Chat GPT to adjust some of our copy to fit our ideal audience.”

Ultimately, every company will need to think about and integrate AI or risk their future. Small and mid-sized business should embrace the potential of AI for growth and innovation. AI is opening a world of opportunity. The time to start learning is now.

Baiju R. Shah is President & CEO of Greater Cleveland Partnership

Baiju R. Shah

President & CEO


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