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Get Yourself a Government Contract

New Business Matchmaking Program, set to roll out nationwide, aims to get entrepreneurs all the contracts their hearts desire

Take several knowledgeable, competent entrepreneurs with products and services to sell, put them in a room with a bunch of government agencies looking to buy, add in the fact that the federal government spends more than $200 billion annually on products on services--23 percent of which must go to small businesses--and what do you get? Hopefully, you get a big, fat government contract.

That's just what the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the SBA hope to accomplish with their new Business Matchmaking Program. Started last year as a pilot, the program is now set to launch in cities nationwide--with the goal of getting small businesses a slice of that billion-dollar pie. "We had the training wheels on for a couple events--now we're taking it on the road," says Fred Armendariz, the SBA's associate deputy administrator for government contracting and business development.

Here's how it works: Go online to www.uschamber.com/events/matchmaking, the program's matchmaking portal, where you can register and create a company profile. The system will automatically match you with federal, state and local government agencies and private organizations looking for your products or services. The $125 fee (add $60 for each additional company representative) for each event includes access to educational sessions, matchmaking appointments, the exhibit area, a continental breakfast and lunch for one person.

How can you prepare yourself for the matchmaking appointments? Simple. Just make yourself indispensable. "The real experts are the small-business people walking in the door," says Armendariz. "Make yourself more valuable than the next guy or gal by offering insight and experience." In other words, segregate yourself somehow. Make sure the sellers understand that you are the person they want to do business with because you not only have the products or services they need, but you also really know your stuff.

Robyn West, vice president of the small and medium business division for Hewlett-Packard--which will support the program not only by providing computers for on-site registration, but also by seeking its own procurement opportunities--concurs with Armendariz: "[You'll] want to touch on your areas of expertise. People are going to want to do business with stable, financially viable companies."

Based on the few pilot events already held, the reaction to the program has been very encouraging, according to Armendariz. "[The response] has been overwhelmingly positive--we've had something like 90 percent approval on the surveys we sent out [afterward]," he says. "It's not like trade shows, where very little business gets done. Our goal is to let [you] interact with a government official."

The first official event is scheduled for March 4-5, 2003, in Orlando, Florida, at the Orlando Expo Convention Center. For a complete schedule and to register, visit www.uschamber.com/events/matchmaking.

Karen E. Spaeder is a freelance business writer in Southern California.

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