The Charlotte Observer
Small Business Administration Plans Online Trade Mission

By Leslie Gross Klaff
September 11, 2000

For small-business owners interested in importing or exporting, the expense of a trade mission is often the barrier that prevents them from going global.

But now the Internet is helping break down that barrier. Starting today, the Small Business Administration and other government agencies are sponsoring a virtual trade mission for female-owned businesses. With the click of a mouse, female business owners can get to know business owners outside the United States and lay the groundwork for trade.

"Small businesses, they really can't afford a traditional trade mission," said Elizabeth Vazquez, vice president of trade development for Tradebuilders, a Washington, D.C., firm that is running the virtual trade mission. "It's not just the time and the money; it's the opportunity costs."

The two-month virtual trade mission will bring together 25 businesses from the United States and 25 businesses from Canada, all of which are in the business services or health-care industries. Tradebuilders has already held a pilot trade mission between business owners in Canada, Malaysia and Singapore, which resulted in 15 signed letters of intent among the companies to do business.

Here's how it works: For the first few weeks, a Web site serves as a place where participants make initial contacts, discuss possible deals and begin forming relationships.

The business owners communicate through e-mail and in a chat room run by a facilitator. They then participate in a videoconference. After that, they go back online for another few weeks to continue to discuss possible deals.

At the end, all the business owners meet in Atlanta on Nov. 2, where organizers hope they will complete negotiations and seal their deals, Vazquez said. Unlike traditional trade missions, "it's a lot more efficient," she said. "This makes it less overwhelming. We get them leads and help them build real relationships."

Female business owners can apply for the trade mission online at www.tradebuilders.com. Owners can still enroll. For more information call Tradebuilders at (202) 237-5703.

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