Real Internships: Emil Tsao

In my last blog post, I wrote briefly about some of the projects that I am working on for ERIC, the Environmental Research and Innovation Center.  One of those projects, the ERIC online store, has been taking the majority of my time and I would like to talk about my experience getting the store up and running.

When I started with ERIC in the beginning of June, the online store was in its infant stages.  My director Nathan Havey and I set out some preliminary goals for what we wanted to accomplish on the store, and how many businesses we would aim to have by the end of my internship with ERIC.  We decided that we would set the goal of 25 businesses in Massachusetts and work from there.

The only problem was that I had no experience starting an online store, or even a list of businesses to contact, therefore, the first few weeks were spent trying to compile a list of every potential candidate for our store.  While there were some directories that listed sustainable businesses (the most helpful were GoGreenWebDirectory.com and the Sustainable Business Leader Program), these lists were largely incomplete, and lacked many of the sustainably minded companies in the Boston area, particularly the small indie businesses.

I figured that the best way to network and discover these businesses might be social media, so I used Twitter, Facebook, and various blogs to help me find these companies and make some initial contact with them.  As a sociology major, I enthusiastically found a number of informal social networks that came about due to a shared passion for local and sustainable business.  These unofficial networks on Twitter were visible through regular communication between the same types of businesses, and constant support, even if it was as simple as mentioning another business in a tweet, or recommending other people to follow another business.

Using these networks, I was able to begin conversations with a number of businesses, a few of which are on the store today.  Those that could not be on the store, for one reason or another, were still helpful and supportive of the idea of an online store dedicated to local and sustainable products.

My point is that social media has allowed like-minded businesses, not just people, to socialize in an open forum.  It was perfect for me, because I was able to tap into these Boston sustainable networks and reach out to them about ERIC via my personal Twitter account.  Every conversation I have had with businesses has been open, candid, and helpful in understanding the Boston market.  I am still in the process of adding businesses to the store, but thus far it has been a rewarding experience.  I invite everyone to check out the upcoming ERIC Store at www.ericstore.myshopify.com and chat me up on Twitter @gentsao.  Thanks!

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