SBA, HP launch small business matchmaker program

The Small Business Administration, in conjunction with Hewlett-Packard Co. of Palo Alto, Calif., and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, launched a nationwide program Jan. 23 that will link small businesses with products and services to sell to federal, state and local government agencies and private companies.

In 15 cities this year, the Business Matchmaking Program will arrange meetings between small-business owners and government agencies and private companies that have specific business opportunities.

"We are going to bring procurement officials armed with contracts to cities around the country. These are real contracts with real opportunities for small businesses," said Dan Demko of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington. Ninety-seven percent of the chamber's members are small businesses, Demko said. The SBA defines a small business as 500 employees or less for most manufacturers. Most service industries must have $6 million or less in annual revenue to be considered a small business.

The program began as a pilot in Washington and Cleveland last year. This year it will kick off with a two-day event March 4 and 5 in Orlando, Fla. In each city, small-business owners will have appointments with potential buyers. Before the events, both will complete online profiles to provide information on what each has to offer. Based on the profiles, a matchmaking system will create the best possible matches and set appointments.

Federal agencies spend $200 billion a year for products and services, and 23 percent of that total, or $46 billion, must go to small businesses, said SBA Administrator Hector Barreto.

"With that kind of economic potential, these matchmaking events give small businesses an opportunity to generate significant sources of new revenue from government agencies and private companies," Barreto said.

Barreto said the SBA does not have specific program goals, such as an amount of procurement that will go to small businesses, but he said the agency will track results.

"Sometimes [business opportunities] come months later - that's really where the rubber hits the road," he said. "We'll measure that."

Last year's pilot in Washington resulted in almost 1,000 meetings between small-business owners and potential buyers, and identified almost $1 billion in procurement opportunities. The Cleveland pilot resulted in about 1,800 meetings, and identified about $2 billion in procurement opportunities, Barreto said.

Hewlett-Packard will provide the technology for onsite registration, assist business owners with the technology for onsite presentations and communications, and use the program to find small-business partners of its own. The effort is a multimillion-dollar contribution, said Robyn West, vice president of the company's Personal Systems Group.

"This program represents the power of public-private cooperation," West said.

At the matchmaking events, small-business owners can also learn about topics such as financing options, access to technology resources, contracting with the federal government and business planning and marketing. Government agencies and private companies will also set up exhibits to provide information to attendees.

In addition to Orlando, matchmaking programs will be held in Houston, Anaheim/Los Angeles, St. Louis, New Orleans, Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Detroit, Birmingham, Ala., Seattle, Boston, Cleveland and Dallas.

Additional information can be found at http://www.sba.gov/gc or http://www.uschamber.com/events/matchmaking/default.html

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