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The Small Business Administration is launching Business Matchmaking, a program to put small businesses together with potential federal customers. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Hewlett-Packard Co. are SBA's partners in the venture, which was launched in Orlando, Fla., earlier this month.

SBA Administrator Hector Barreto, testifying before the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee last week, cited the new program as an example of the agency's efforts to bring small companies into the federal market.

More than 500 small businesses took part in the Orlando event, and organizers scheduled more than 2,500 appointments for them, he said.

The matchmaker program will open doors to companies far from Washington, D.C., said David Albritton, public relations director at HP. "There are billions of dollars in contracts out there. Historically, 80 percent of those dollars have gone to companies within 50 miles of the Beltway," he said.

Smaller companies often don't believe they have much chance of winning federal business, said Rita Perlman, who directs the matchmaking program for the Chamber of Commerce.

"They're often not looked on as viable candidates for these contracts, and they don't have experience," she said. "For a lot of them, it's very intimidating. They don't know how...a little guy [is] going to make an impression on the government."

The next meeting is set for June in Chicago.

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