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Adi Engel: Clearing the Path to Small Business Digitalization

Digitalization brings as many benefits to small businesses as it does to large ones, but it’s more challenging for a small business or solopreneur company to implement digital transformation than for a large corporation, which has dedicated IT teams, in-house technical expertise, and the means to bring in consultants from outside to help ease the transition.
Many business tech tools are designed for enterprise use, so small business owners can’t always find the tools that match their unique needs. COVID-19 sharpened the need for digitalization. Small businesses, especially service-based businesses, struggled far more than large enterprises — although many of those went under too — and desperately needed support to help them pivot to non-contact services, maintain relationships with clients, and access funding to ride out the worst of the pandemic.
Adi Engel, Chief Marketing Officer at vcita, is driven by an ambition to deliver this support. Together with her colleagues, Engel offers small business owners an all-in-one digital business management platform that includes tools for online appointment scheduling, email marketing, and CRM, as well as invoicing and managing payments. No less importantly, she also provides education and guidance for small businesses to digitalize processes, streamline operations, and unlock funding sources.
Engel has been working at vcita for over seven years, first as the Chief Business Development Officer and then in her current role as CMO. She came with plenty of experience in product management and marketing, having spent seven years in various related positions before joining vcita. Engel was named one of Aspioneer’s Elite Women in Business in 2021 and is a sought-after speaker and role model for women in tech. 
With all of the buzz around digital transformation in recent years, most of the conversation seems to focus on the need for enterprise companies to catch up. What’s been happening with digital transformation among small businesses?
Digital means different things for different people, naturally, in such a large segment, but we do see very broad changes in the adoption of digital and contactless payments, and we believe it will increase the appetite for better interconnected, more efficient digital work environments for small businesses.
We are not quite there yet as an ecosystem, but there is a clear trend driving innovation in this space.
You’re a big proponent of “digital inclusion” for small businesses. Who’s been excluding them, and why? How can small businesses overcome that?
I do believe there was never an intention to exclude anyone, but as with many tech-driven trends, we have to actively make sure digitalization serves the entire population.
With local, community-based businesses, it was the withdrawal of the bank branches and the physical presence of the supporting ecosystem that made banking highly accessible online but less so for businesses who weren’t already speaking that digital language.
By making sure the record for client engagements, transactions, invoices, quotes are digitized, businesses are once again present in the same space as their banks, and the communication around funding is better streamlined.
How does vcita’s platform fit into these issues? How does your software help small businesses digitalize what processes? 
Our focus is supporting business owners in digitalizing their day-to-day activities, managing their clients, money, and time on a single app that was designed for interconnectivity and “playing well” with the greater ecosystem around them.
We help them keep their clients engaged, automate billing requests, build their “business logic,” such as how would they like to get paid and how, and we allow them to create great digital customer experiences like the consumers have come to expect in recent years – digital payments, digital communication, booking of services, etc.
You might think of it as e-commerce designed from the ground up for service providers.
You are bullish on partnerships between vcita, fintech, and traditional banks. What do these organizations have to gain by partnering with vcita?
vcita is quite unique in the sense that it manages a direct channel, engaging with our segment on a day-to-day basis, and then leverages that insight to offer a robust digital platform for our partners to build their own solutions on top.
To illustrate, the team just published our end-of-year survey to analyze SME trends ahead of 2022 and got 3000 responses from our community SMEs within hours. Couple that with a modular, microservice-based SaaS platform, and you’ll find great opportunities to create a real positive impact in the SME space.
What do banks not understand about the needs of small businesses, and what challenges do you face when trying to convey these concepts to bankers?
I must say I greatly admire – and I’m greatly inspired by – the industry’s commitment to supporting SMEs’ recovery from Covid.
The one thing I would have liked financial institutions to consider is that while individual businesses might struggle through certain times, the strength of the SME segment is in its agility and the fact it provides vital services to the community that will never cease to be needed. So, while the banking space is rightly risk-averse, especially post 2008, they need to look at funding SMEs as a long-term investment in people and communities.
Our customers are healthcare providers, business services, financial and legal consultants, builders, tutors, and educators. They work in fitness and wellness, beauty, and hospitality. Even if their current business fails, they remain skilled, creative, and highly driven, and they will bounce back if they are offered the right support.

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