D.C. company test runs 'virtual trade mission' to Israel

Washington Business Journal
BY MARTIN KADY II, Staff Reporter
April 12-18, 2002

The daily headlines from Israel are frightening enough to scuttle any notion of business travel to that region.

So rather than spending thousands of dollars on airfare, conference facilities, hotel reservations and security for a trip to one of the most volatile spots in the world, D.C.-based Tradebuilders is setting up a series of online meetings, networking sessions and chat rooms for a group of U.S. and Israeli tech companies to meet and discuss business opportunities.

Call it a virtual trade mission.

Israel has a top-notch reputation in fiber optics, telecom and security technologies. Israeli companies have an expanding presence in the United States, but the U.S. State Department as warned tourists and business people against traveling to Israel. That's where Tradebuilders has stepped in-trying to connect Israeli and U.S. tech firms using conferencing software.

"This confirms our business model; it's better than losing plane fare and hotel reservations," says Elizabeth Vazquez, president and founder of Tradebuilders, which shows companies how to use technology to further international trade. "This is not meant to replace travel altogether. It's meant to be the preparatory work."

Michael Lamm, program director for the Vienna-based U.S.-Israel Business Exchange, hopes that participants in the mission can separate business from world politics.

"There's this perception of Israel that there are bombings all the time, but for the business side, it should not affect a trade mission," Lamm says. "In business meetings, they try to keep the politics separate. I think there are a lot of Israeli companies that want to access the D.C. area."

Still, registration for this series of online meetings and networking sessions between U.S. and Israeli companies has been a bit slower than Vazquez had hoped. Vazquez expects about 50 registrants-she had hoped for 75-with equal numbers participating from Israel and the United States.

A virtual trade mission essentially is a secure Web site set up with various links to information, subject-specific chat rooms and planned online meetings. The event will wrap up with a large videoconference so participants can see one another and talk live.

The trade mission will last one month, from April 22 to May 22, and costs $250 per participant. Tradebuilders (www.tradebuilders.com) is the primary organizer and is building the technology behind the mission; it has lined up sponsors ranging from the U.S.-Israel Business Exchange (www.usibex.org) to the D.C. Tech Council (www.dctechcouncil.org).

The mission's Web site also has an online library and regulatory information related to trade.

Sonic Telecom, a Herndon-based videoconferencing and networking company, is helping set up the video conferences for the virtual trade mission. Beth Bush, Sonic's (www.sonictelecom.com) vice president of marketing, doesn't believe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will stop U.S. and Israeli companies from striking deals durring the trade mission.

"The political and social environment are challenging, but it doesn't stop the progress of business," Bush says. "People don't want to travel to the Middle East now, but we can help connect them. If there was ever a need to use technology instead of travel, this is it."

Washington Business Journal, April 12-18, 2002, Page 6

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