Such global accessibility can arguably be traced back to one of the most significant developments to impact our modern world--the Internet. At long last, the information superhighway grants businesses of all dimensions an easy--and inexpensive--mode of promoting products and services to an audience that was, for practical purposes, previously unreachable.
"I think it's going to level the playing field considerably for smaller companies," says Winters. "Do I think it's going to happen [this year]? I think it will start. But [entrepreneurs] should get their feet wet now. I think they should get in it because it's got the potential to be a major driver of the economy in the future."
That's because of a remarkable capability still in the early stages of development and acceptance, known widely as e-commerce, or electronic commerce. And although consumers today understand the risks involved when disclosing credit card numbers over unsecured lines, that will all change tomorrow when a program is developed that guarantees security. A handful are in the works, including one under joint construction by Visa and MasterCard.
The Internet aside, technology in general has provided a strategic edge for entrepreneurial firms. "This country has always been blessed with being innovative, and smaller businesses are usually the most nimble of the innovative," says Wacker.
Although some companies still underutilize the capacity of technology, those on the cutting edge will use its potential this year more than ever to take their businesses to new heights. "I think technology has done nothing but help small business," Winters says. "And I think it will continue to play a significant part in their development in 1998."
Perhaps most important, technology will continue to gradually alter the existing landscape. Although the effects will not be immediately evident, over time the changes will elicit a whole new perspective. Says Wacker, "I think the pervasiveness of technology today is at least as profound as the Gutenberg Bible was in the 1460s. I think every new industry will have at least [some] technological prowess."