SBA takes small biz online

SBA Exchange

The Small Business Administration recently launched SBA Exchange, a purchasing tool that helps small businesses set up an electronic storefront and conduct business online.

The site, which launched Oct. 30, also allows agencies to award acquisitions of up to $100,000 to small businesses and make payments electronically using the governmentwide commercial purchase cards, said Linda Williams, associate administrator for government contracting at SBA.

SBA Exchange will test its mettle as part of an ongoing pilot program at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, Williams said, adding that SBA officials plan to launch the new tool nationally March 30, 2003.

Companies are already signing up, and federal agencies interested in participating must sign a memorandum of understanding with SBA to use the service, she said.

Nexgen Solutions Inc. is providing the software that establishes the online presence for small businesses. Through Jan. 15, 2003, the Silver Spring, Md.-based company is creating electronic storefronts for the local companies that do business with Wright-Patterson, said Edward Howlette Jr., president and chief executive officer of Nexgen.

"Each company gets a turnkey site with electronic catalogs to manage and maintain, as well as a business profile," Howlette said. "Our system automatically creates infrastructure for the storefront" and includes a help desk for maintaining the business' profile.

The time it takes to set up a small business online depends on what the company starts out with and how many items it wants to list. If it's only a few items, the process is as simple as clicking a button and entering details on each product, but if there are numerous products for sale, the businesses use a Microsoft Corp. Excel spreadsheet that lists all the necessary information, which takes a bit longer, Howlette said. He added that the company would probably contract third-party electronic cataloging companies to help with the effort.

The Air Force is providing $200,000 to support SBA Exchange - money that became available at the end of fiscal 2002, said Tom Wells, deputy director of contracting at Air Force Materiel Command headquarters at Wright-Patterson.

"They are transitioning from a test database to a production environment, and they need to get that going before they plug in to Wright-Patterson," Wells said. "We hope to begin before the end of the calendar year."

Businesses must pay $1,500 per year plus a 2 percent transaction fee to be included in SBA Exchange, but the first 2,500 companies to sign up get a $450 discount, Howlette said.

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