How AI Is Helping Entire Networks of Small Businesses

Last month, Bloomberg reported that for the first time since 2015, its Startups Barometer had a year-over-year increase, meaning the environment for startups is looking up. That’s good news for startups, but it’s also good news for our economy and the communities we live in, travel to and visit. What you might not expect is that AI is one of the many technologies that is supporting the small business community in this growth — from startups to the Main Street stop you check out this Memorial Day weekend — and we must embrace it.

There has been a lot of talk about AI recently — from Silicon Valley to Washington, D.C. People have tried to paint AI as a threat to small businesses and jobs. But as we recognized National Small Business Week earlier this month, and as families get ready for summer vacations and travel season, it’s important to also recognize how AI is helping small businesses in not only the travel industry, but in the communities you’re visiting each and every day.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had that entrepreneurial tick. But for a career spanning 20 years, I never acted on it until a few years ago. That’s when I combined my coding and technology roots with my passion for creativity and founded a small business startup called Walk and Explore, in 2015. Walk and Explore is a tourism platform with the potential to completely transform how you and I travel by creating personalized and real-time action paths for visitors, tourists and residents in cities across the globe. But my company wouldn’t be possible without what many call “artificial intelligence” — commonly known as AI.

Our clients and users are gaining huge benefits from AI. Rather than just another app or travel guide that can offer you hundreds — even thousands — of options of activities on a given day, Walk and Explore is using IBM’s Watson and AI to create personalized travel on an entirely new level. AI is allowing Walk and Explore to develop itineraries that speak uniquely to an individual or a family, and constantly evolves throughout your day or visit.

But what’s really unique about the use of AI technology, is not just how it’s helping my business, but how it’s helping an entire network of small businesses in the communities that we operate. Through this technology, we’re able to help put more small- and medium-size businesses on the map — literally — which in turn supports local economies. In some destinations, for example, we’re working with the chamber of commerce to bring more businesses into the Walk and Explore community — and it’s the AI technology that allows us to do this efficiently and quickly, all the while taking the user’s interests and needs into account. And as Walk and Explore learns more about the activity in the destination, it makes better decisions that can benefit the local economy and immediately translate into small business growth.

This is exactly what Watson’s technology and machine learning does, and how it can help foster a chain reaction for small business growth. Startups like mine — and other businesses in tourism, health care or cybersecurity, to name just a few — would never be able to sort through massive amounts of data, analyze it, identify what’s relevant and be able to respond quickly enough without AI. And more importantly, we wouldn’t be able to tap into real-time data to create and expand opportunities for other small businesses in our communities.

Small business owners, consumers and lawmakers should be excited about AI. It’s powering startups to build their businesses, solve problems we may or may not have known existed and expand the consumer base for networks of small businesses globally. And when you’re hitting the beach this weekend, or taking a walk down Main Street, take a moment to think about how AI is helping power the economic growth in communities across the globe.


Georgina Castanon is the founder and CEO of Walk and Explore. She previously was an employee of IBM.

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