SBA plays matchmaker

SBA Government Contracting

The U.S. Small Business Administration announced today the establishment of an online matchmaking system that is intended to give small businesses a better chance at winning government contracts.

The Business Matchmaking Program, sponsored by Hewlett-Packard Co. and announced in conjunction with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, begins online, but ultimately brings small businesses and government agencies together face to face to discuss specific business opportunities.

Small-business owners and government buyers complete online profiles on what each has to offer. Based on these profiles, the program creates a match. The two parties then meet during two-day regional events in 15 cities nationwide, with businesses able to schedule several appointments during one event. The program will then track the results of the match.

"This is us actually identifying the companies and identifying the buyers that have the contracts," SBA Administrator Hector Barretto said. "It takes it out to the them, so the small businesses don't have to come out to Washington, D.C."

The events, which start March 4 and 5 in Orlando, Fla., also will provide small businesses insight into financing options and access to technology resources and seminars on topics such as government contracting and business planning and marketing. Agencies and private companies will set up exhibits to provide small-business owners with more information.

"This is one-stop-shopping for the small-business owner," Barretto said. HP will provide the equipment and support for the program. Company representatives also will be on hand at the events to walk participants through the process and help them access e-mail, make a presentation or get a wireless connection, HP vice president Robyn West said. In a pilot program in October 2002 in Cleveland, the matchmaking facilitated more than 1,600 meetings between small-business owners and buyers to discuss nearly $2 billion in contracts. One small-business owner based in Mansfield, Ohio, who sells seats and seat covers, said he filled out the online form and was matched with eight potential contracts.

"This way, I got to meet all eight [buyers] in one morning and meet other business owners," said Dan Ferguson, owner of Covers Manufacturing Inc.

Ferguson previously would spend months nailing down one contract, and this program allowed him to make several future contacts. He also was given a list of buyers for future leads on contracts and has dramatically increased his business.

The program's other cities are Houston; Anaheim/Los Angeles, Calif.; St. Louis; New Orleans; Chicago; New York; Atlanta; Detroit; Birmingham, Ala.; Seattle; Washington, D.C.; Boston and Cleveland.

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