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August 24, 2023

AI For Small Businesses: Insights From Jim Starcev, KC Digital Drive

by Pete Dulin

KC Digital Drive Jim Starcev

KC Digital Drive Program Manager Jim Starcev shares his perspective on how artificial intelligence can help small businesses and entrepreneurs compete and grow.

Like online commerce and Google Search, artificial intelligence is yet another technology difference maker. AI is quickly shifting from emerging tech to built-in established tools used by early-adopter professionals and businesses of all sizes. Waiting to learn and implement AI to perform tasks and complement small business operations can bear opportunity costs.

Since inception, KC Digital Drive’s priorities have focused on efforts to close the digital divide by making emerging technology accessible, drive digital innovation, and build Kansas City’s reputation for technology innovation and adoption. For small businesses, AI can immediately impact economic development and productivity.

How is KC Digital Drive taking steps to address the emergence of AI and its impact on the local economy and services?

Our opinion is that AI will have a huge impact across a wide range of industries in Kansas City. For any emerging technology, we will look for groups in town that we can collaborate with. For AI, we work with groups like KC AI Club and UMKC TalentLink to help them build the AI community. We are also hosting events in specific industries including entrepreneurs, healthcare, and digital media.

Is it important for these small businesses to be attuned to AI’s rapidly developing changes and how it may affect their business and industry?  

Companies of all sizes, from solopreneurs to large corporations, need to be looking at AI. Not only will AI impact most industries, but it will also be used in many different parts of an organization. Smaller businesses that tend to run on tighter margins and may have more limited resources can gain ground on larger competitors using AI.  

Should businesses develop a proactive approach to AI implementation? Or take a wait-and-see stance? AI tools are already being incorporated into established brand name services and platforms from Microsoft, Google, and Adobe.

At this point, there is virtually no option to wait-and-see. Most major tech brands have begun rolling at integrated AI in their products. Even in businesses that don’t have an active AI policy, many of their employees are already using AI tools. By being proactive, they have more control over how efficiently these tools are being used and could avoid some risks that are associated with new technologies.

With AI, Kansas City doesn’t need to wait for trends to roll out to the Midwest. How can local companies, entrepreneurs, and developers lead the market with AI-supported products and services within their established client base?

No need to wait for trends to travel from the coasts (or even Austin and Nashville). There are lots of resources in Kansas City that companies, entrepreneurs, and developers have access to. Many small and large businesses have already implemented AI policies and there are new, AI specific companies forming in Kansas City.

Resource: Kansas City AI Club’s list of KC AI companies.

How important is it for workers to proactively learn and develop AI skills?

There are lots of studies showing that utilizing AI can significantly increase someone’s productivity. Workers of all generations should look at AI tools that can assist them in the work they are doing. Many tools coming available have really good user interfaces and are relatively easy to learn and use. Artificial intelligence can be an intimidating term, but if you can get over the initial hump it is something that most people can implement. There are a lot of resources in Kansas City to get over the hump.

Will companies offer training to help existing workers learn how to responsibly and effectively use AI? Or is it more likely they will simply expect new hires to have these skills?

While there are some hiring trends of companies looking for people with AI experience, that is a very limited pool at this point. It is a good idea for companies that have the resources to offer training for their existing employees.  

How can regional businesses and professionals grow more familiar with AI tools and services?

Look at companies you are already familiar with and see what they are doing in AI. Google, Meta, Microsoft, Amazon, Canva, Airtable, Snap, etc. have all rolled out integrated AI tools. Look specifically for tools that you use. Writing and image creation are probably the most popular options. Many local companies are specifically AI companies, such as Saile.ai, gobanasas.ai, and storytailor.ai, seem to pop up daily.