"If you're not online, you're invisible."

That was the message from Ross Young of Google NZ to those who attended a presentation this week focusing on how small Tauranga businesses were benefiting from technology.

The Digital Enablement Project, part of Techweek, was officially launched on Thursday evening at Tauranga Art Gallery.

Tauranga's Venture Centre was carrying out the project, which would digitally upskill youth, business owners and entrepreneurs through workshops and presentations over the next 18 months.

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Surrounded by one of the oldest forms of communication hanging on the walls of the gallery, businesses described how using the newest forms of communication had transformed their businesses and grown revenue and customers.

Unique use of technology had allowed New Zealand oranges to enter and succeed in the Chinese fruit market - previously dominated by the sweeter Australian orange.

John Miller, of Foodview, explained how using WeChat - the Facebook Messenger app equivalent in China - they were able to market their oranges to its 850 million users.

"We became a multinational fruit business in four short years."

People could ask about the oranges and buy them straight from WeChat. It bypassed suppliers and went straight to the consumers.

Lisa Buck from Thorne Group architects showed how their strong social media presence reeled in customers and hooked them with a detailed and interactive website.

"Technology has been a game-changer. We have been able to grow without significant investment."

The architect firm used Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram to attract customers.

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Technology meant they could give their customers everything - virtual 3D walkthrough videos, costing software that would cost each job down to the cent.

Clients were given their own website where they could see live schedule updates on their build, updates from project managers and progress pictures.

John van der Zwan from Schools International Education Business Association (SIEBA) relayed how using an online hub helped them attract 250 schools to sign up to their business.

SIEBA helped schools with their international education business - connecting local schools with international schools - and fee-paying students.

On their website a message board allowed schools to chat about the business of international students and give each other tips and advice.


Digital Enablement Project

The project began back in 2015 when the Government told councils to come up with a digital strategy to ensure communities would make use of access to ultrafast fibre broadband connections.

The goal was for Western Bay District Council and Tauranga City Council to come up with a plan to ensure everyone had access to benefit from digital technologies.

Last year Venture Centre found business owners were using digital tools though not necessarily reaping increased custom, revenue or new markets,

The Digital Enablement Project pilot runs from Techweek '17 until Techweek '18.

What's on in Tauranga for Techweek: http://techweek.co.nz/whats-on/

Digital Enablement Project events here: https://www.eventbrite.co.nz/e/digitally-empowering-people-tickets-33357179221