Industry Week - Growing Companies Report
Pilot To Help Women Business Owners Go Global

By Deborah Austin
September 13, 2000

Women small-business owners have until the week of Oct. 23 to get in on a Web-based pilot for a virtual-trade mission between Canada and the U.S.

The mission is offered through Washington, D.C.-based Tradebuilders, a year-old firm that offers global e-commerce opportunities to trade-ready small and midsized businesses. Culminating Nov. 16 after starting Sept. 11, it is the first in a planned series of Tradebuilders Virtual Missions. This particular mission is geared toward women-owned businesses, 25 of which already are participating.

Business deals already are being formed through the mission, says Tradebuilders Executive Vice President Elizabeth Vazquez -- but since this is a pilot mission, Tradebuilders is focusing not so much on specific dollar amounts of business generated as on increasing the number of women-owned businesses involved in international trade. Through it, she says, they should find themselves increasing their trade readiness and trade competency.

"This one is really about testing the technology, finding out from participants what they need from this environment for capability development, and enhancing the types of networking opportunities we can create for them."

For future missions, she says, important measurements will include the money amount of business generated between companies, as well as the number of letters of intent and memorandums of understanding -- and the relationships built.

The current virtual mission includes keynote speakers, breakout rooms for honing in on trade-related topics such as trade finance and trade challenges, a resource library, and an informal cafe for networking.

The Tradebuilders Virtual Mission is created and hosted by Caucus Systems Inc., an Arlington, Va.-based provider of virtual collaborative environments, and is accessible to participants by logging onto Caucus' Web site (www.caucus.com).

The mission also is sponsored and supported by a strategic alliance of public/private groups including the U.S. Small Business Administration's (SBA) Office of Women's Business Ownership and Office of International Trade; the U.S. Dept. of Commerce; the Canadian Consul General posted in Atlanta; Industry Canada, a government entity similar to the U.S. Dept. of Commerce; and the Royal Bank of Canada.

The SBA had requested that Tradebuilders do a mission geared toward women-owned businesses, and gave it seed money to move forward quickly with the pilot mission, says Vazquez. The SBA and Dept. of Commerce also have offered their guidance and expertise to the mission, the SBA helping with the process of getting the word out to potential participants.

Tradebuilders plans that each successive virtual trade mission will have its own group of sponsors tailored to its specific agenda, says Vazquez, depending on geographic area and industry focus.

For first-quarter 2001, it has planned virtual trade missions between the U.S. and India, the U.S. and Singapore, and the U.S. and Canada. It also is working on plans for a Latin America trade mission.

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