- The Washington Times - Monday, December 20, 2004

The United States’ small businesses — long celebrated as the chief job-creating engine in the country — received an early Christmas present last week.

The Small Business Administration (SBA) and Hewlett-Packard (HP) announced a round of “Business Matchmaking” conferences for 2005, and an online “virtual matchmaking” session that will be piloted in Phoenix; Albuquerque, N.M.; Kansas City, Mo.; Tampa, Fla.; and Denver, before being rolled out nationwide.

This might be deja vu for HP, which began as a small business out of a garage. HP is supplying funding for the program, as well as the know-how to make the live and virtual events successful.

“This is one of the most successful public-private partnerships that the SBA has been involved in and the kind of thing the government should be looking toward,” SBA Administrator Hector V. Barreto said.

The program holds open sessions at which small businesses can meet federal agency buyers. The events give small businesses — including those owned by disabled and other veterans, women and minorities — the chance to bid on federal procurements, or team up with larger firms as subcontractors.

Mr. Barreto said that, so far, the sessions have resulted in more than 23,000 one-on-one appointments between small businesses and buyers of every federal department and agency. At the same time, small businesses already have logged more than $26 million in deals, with more in the pipeline.

The administrator, who has a background in small businesses, said the Business Matchmaking venture was designed to help firms grow.

HP’s Michael Pinckert, the firm’s regional manager for small business, admits to self-interest in helping small- and medium-sized businesses, a category the technology industry has shortened to “SMB.”

Mr. Pinckert said, “Two-thirds of our revenue worldwide comes from SMBs. And nine out of 10 SMBs in the U.S. have an HP product.”

Mr. Barreto said, “HP really provides a lot of the key elements that make this successful. They underwrite the cost of this, bring technology assistance, bring their contracts and business relationships with large corporations. It’s a comprehensive association that we have.”

The matchmaking meetings run on technology — computers are used for registration, initial “matching” and follow-up.

All that takes money and know-how, things that the government is happy to leverage.

For HP, Mr. Pinckert added, “It’s the right thing to do” to help grow business and drive the economy. If we can facilitate small businesses doing business with government and larger companies, that’s a positive thing.”

Technology will play an essential role in the “virtual” phase of business matchmaking. The entrepreneur unable to attend a matchmaking event can log on and get appointments either via the Internet or a phone call, Mr. Barreto said.

Recalling the current numbers, he added that with the virtual program, “We could double that in one year with all of the activity. And, HP is with us every step of the way.” If this all pans out — with a key technology helper — the United States’ small businesses could have even more to celebrate at this time next year.

E-mail MarkKel@aol.com or visit www.kellner.us.

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