Matchmaking Small-Business Style

Monday Feb 6th 2006 by Lauren Simonds

The Business Matchmaking initiative returns for 2006 and adds an online resource to help SMBs court government and corporate contracts.

Job contracts from the government and major corporations can provide a great source of revenue for small businesses — if they can get in the door to meet, negotiate and win the bids. That's a rather daunting if — unless you have a little help on your side. Fortunately, small businesses have their own personal matchmaker that offers freeeducation, training, counseling, tools and resources to help them find and secure procurement opportunities from state and federal governments and the private sector.

The help comes in the form of the Business Matchmaking initiative sponsored by HP, the Small Business Administration and SCORE, a non-profit organization that provides free advice and training to small businesses. Working together for the past three years through regional events held across the United States, HP, SCORE and the SBA have been matching small businesses with buyers from private corporations and local, state and federal governments. To date, the program has created more than 36,000 one-on-one meetings, which resulted in more than $37 million in contracts for small businesses.

The program kicks off its third year with a regional face-to-face event schedule for February 13 in Oakland, Calif., followed by events in Houston (August 2), Philadelphia (Sept. 22) and Miami (Nov. 16).

Small businesses that attend the face-to-face events will receive advance education and tools so that they can prepare for their one-on-one meetings with government and corporate buyers. Components of the events include:

  • Individual business counseling and guidance provided by the SBA, SCORE, SBDCand other resource partners
  • Viewing of the Virtual Business Matchmaking Workshop — an online tutorial to prepare for Business Matchmaking and procurement opportunities
  • Access to the Business Matchmaking System in advance of the event to be matched with participating procurement representatives and setting a schedule for appointments with buyers
  • Face-to-face meetings with procurement representatives of federal, state and local government agencies and major corporations
  • Small-business specific and topical workshops available throughout event day
  • Exhibits and networking with regional small business resources including access to capital, SBA loans, insurance, federal qualification requirements, women and minority business tools, certification, etc.
  • On-site Internet access and e-mail capabilities provided at the HP Tech Center
  • Access to representatives from private sector co-sponsors for information about their companies

Eric Brennan, HP's director of business solutions marketing, said that small business is a key market for HP, which is why it continues to sponsor the events. "Business Matchmaking gives us yet another avenue to support small business owners. We provide a tech center at each event, which offers Internet access, printing facilities and staffers to answer any questions small business owners may have as they prepare for their one-on-one appointments."

If you don't live near one of the Business Matchmaking event locations or your schedule prevents you from attending, you won't lose out. The Business Matchmaking Online Network makes the programs services and tools available wherever you live. The online component began as a test pilot last year in only five cities. This year, it's available across the Internet. It includes Web-based educational tools (including the Virtual Business Matchmaking Workshop), monthly Webinars with procurement and diversity experts, articles you can download and links to other resources.

"Posting the program online expands its reach to small business," said Brennan. "Business owners can't be everywhere or always attend events. The online version gives them a chance to get a foot in the door."

Of course, dealing with the government involves a certain amount of red tape (which the Business Matchmaking event guides you through) so there are eligibility requirements for participation. Small businesses must view the Business Matchmaking Virtual Workshop, and they must register with Central Contractor Registration — this is the primary vendor database for the federal government. You have to be registered with them in order to receive a government contract. Finally, the government (and many corporations) requires its vendors to have a D&B D-U-N-S Number. You can also get a D-U-N-S Number (at no charge) by calling 1-800-333-0505.

Lauren Simonds is the managing editor of SmallBusinessComputing.com

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