Trading Across Virtual Borders

SmallBusinessDepot.com
November 22, 2000

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Imagine forging international partnerships from the comfort of your PC. That's what approximately 50 women business owners - 25 from Canada and 25 from the United States - accomplished during the U.S. Small Business Administration's first virtual trade mission to Canada.

The two-month mission ended late last week in Atlanta, Ga., with a ceremony that witnessed the signing of 22 business agreements. Those deals ranged from agreements to pursue mutual business opportunities to the sale of specific products and services. Several SBA officials were on hand to offer export assistance in the form of information and financing.

"It really was quite a coming together of all the forces and all the intentions into a great, positive burst of energy," says Sherrye Henry, associate administrator of the SBA's Office of Women's Business Ownership. "We expect a lot will come from this; we hope that we will be in the virtual trade mission business."

The virtual mission was born out of a 1998 trade mission that led approximately 100 women business owners to Toronto, Canada, for a four-day conference. The event was so successful that SBA officials were determined to find an easier way to bring women together across the border. The expense and time of a physical mission was just too great for most. Henry and her staff talked about organizing a virtual mission, but she says the expense at that time was "enormous."

A company called Tradebuilders decided to change that by developing a less expensive software solution. All participants need to access the chat-room type program is Internet access. They log on to Tradebuilders.com and fill out an application. Once their application has been approved, they receive an access code, which enables them to participate in a particular mission.

Participation in this most recent mission - the first of its kind - was restricted to women entrepreneurs. They were able to log on at their convenience and "meet" other participants to discuss potential business deals. Future missions may be industry-specific. The approach, says Tradebuilders.com's Vice President Elizabeth Vazquez, makes sense.

"We're not trying to replace traditional trade missions or traditional ways of doing business," she says. "We're just bringing together the best available resources in technology to help small businesses participate in trade in a more powerful, affordable and efficient way."

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