Woman Build Alliances Via Internet

By S. Mitra Kalita
October 24, 2000

In the last month, Mildred Saunders has met fellow women business owners in Georgia, Florida and Canada. With them, Saunders, the president of a management consulting firm, discusses business strategies, solicits advice on growing her company, and talks about possible partnerships and trade.

Through it all, Saunders has never left her office in Flushing.

For the past month, 25 women from the United States and Canada have gathered at all hours of the day and night over the Internet to form foreign-trade partnerships. The program, sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Canadian Consul General, aims to connect the women entrepreneurs-including consultants, a travel agent and a film producer-in both countries for less time and money than traditional trade missions. Each pays a $50 fee and commits herself to logging on at least three times a week.

"This makes it affordable and really builds relationships," said Elizabeth A. Vasquez, executive vice president of Inc., an e-commerce company in Washington, D.C. hosting the mission. "And it makes them comfortable with jumping into the international arena." She estimated the cost of participating in a traditional trade mission at $5,000 and $15,000. "Most small businesses cannot afford that kind of dollar figure nor can they afford that kind of time away," she said.

Saunders' firm, Milsaun & Co., already has clients in the United Kingdom and Ghana, but she said she's always looking for prospects.

So far, Saunders has used the virtual mission to network and educate others about her business, which specializes in maximizing employee performance. "It's unusual that I am given the opportunity to network with like-minded female business owners," she said. "I'm trying to expand my client and business space." The Web site, accessible at, allows participants to meet each other in several "rooms," such as a cafe, a negotiations area, a library and a forum for guest speakers. Yesterday, the women saw each other face to face for the first time during a live video and telephone conference.

For interested women business owners the trade mission will be accepting additional delegates until the end of October, and concludes Nov. 16.

On that day, the U.S. women will gather in Atlanta for a deal-signing ceremony with the hope that their virtual connecting has paid off.

"When they do meet each other, they will be ready to do business," Vasquez said.

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