The new FedEx E-Commerce Learning Lab is designed specifically for businesses owned by women and people of color to help them develop their e-commerce operations as they continue to adapt their business models in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Courtesy photo)

Small businesses owned by women and people of color who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 will soon have support from the FedEx E-Commerce Learning Lab.

The recently launched FedEx program was developed in collaboration with Accion Opportunity Fund (AOF), a nonprofit organization providing small business owners with access to capital, networks and coaching.

According to FedEx, the program is designed to help diverse small business owners who are looking to develop or expand their e-commerce operations as they continue to adapt their business models in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a focus on women and entrepreneurs of color.

The program is designed to provide intensive hands-on learning to 150 small business owners across the U.S. through a series of workshops and one-on-one coaching. The business owners will receive free technical support in setting up and maintaining their virtual stores, as well as support with marketing, managing promotions, customer service, managing orders and fulfillments, and product photography.

Participants will also receive a $2,000 business grant to launch and grow their e-commerce business. AOF and FedEx plan to develop a series of virtual seminars on more advanced e-commerce topics, as well as an online learning hub featuring on-demand virtual learning courses, open to any small business owner seeking to expand their e-commerce expertise.

As a result of more consumers shopping online during the pandemic, eMarketer reports that e-commerce volumes grew by 33 percent in 2020.

“It is no secret that the pandemic has had a significant impact on small business owners, especially women and people of color,” said Brie Carere, executive vice president, chief marketing and communications officer, FedEx. “Through our new collaboration with AOF, we are helping to level the playing field and get these small businesses back on their feet, which is especially important as record growth in e-commerce volumes continue.”

With the launch of the FedEx E-Commerce Learning Lab, Carere said, “we’ll not only help individuals meet customer needs in new ways, but also provide comprehensive programming that will equip them with the tools to navigate through these uncertain times.”

The hands-on learning experience will be open to 150 small business owners who are new to e-commerce. It is scheduled to run five months, beginning in September 2021. The timeframe was designed to ensure that participants receive support with holiday marketing and promotions, as well as technical support in all aspects of managing holiday orders, traditionally the busiest time of year for e-commerce.

Technical support, order fulfillment and initial hosting of their online stores will be delivered in collaboration with 37 Oaks, a Chicago-based social enterprise founded by Terrand Smith, that helps small businesses owned by women and people of color prepare for distribution through diverse growth channels. 

“Together with FedEx, we have the opportunity to help elevate the voices of entrepreneurs that often go unheard,” said Luz Urrutia, CEO, Accion Opportunity Fund.

“By offering access to resources and opportunities and providing tailored support, we can prepare these communities for future growth and ultimately develop more equitable economic opportunities for a diverse range of businesses.”

Participants must not have an existing active e-commerce presence, currently produce and sell a packaged product (either shelf-stable, pre-packaged food or non-food general merchandise such as fashion, beauty or home décor), earn less than $500,000 in annual revenue and be willing to commit to full program participation. 

More details about the application process will be available in June. To be notified when the application is live, sign up at https://aofund.org/program/fedex/.