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Getting Entrepreneurs Talking Online

This web conferencing company is helping small-business owners connect in cyberspace.

No entrepreneur ever made it on his own, at least that's how George Buys feels. That's why Buys, 58, a serial entrepreneur himself, is using web conferencing site Talking Communities to bring together entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial wannabes in audio chat rooms.

"Entrepreneurs are just a special breed of people," says Buys, who co-founded the site with business partner Steven Hoffman, 34. "They've got a dream and something they really want to do, and to have people around you who are dreamers, too, moves that dream pretty quick."

The goal of Talking Communities' Entrepreneur Networking Community is to help people find the tools and resources necessary to start and grow their companies by bringing them together with small-business owners who've already launched their companies. "This is a place they can go to find the tools and the technology they need, get advice from other entrepreneurs and just throw out ideas and get feedback," says Steven Hoffman. In addition to encouraging peer relationships, Buys and Hoffman are also planning to bring in a variety of experts and successful businesspeople to hold conferences within the community.

The Entrepreneur Networking Community is just one of many operating within the company's site, which brings together VoIP-capable web users who share common interests like karaoke, country music or role-playing games. The site is also home to entrepreneurs who have set up shop offering training courses or consulting services.

"Our main goal at Talking Communities is to create entrepreneurs. That's where we define our success," Hoffman says. "Our customers and partners each came to us with an idea or desire to start a business, to train or consult online, and we have the technology, the know-how and the expertise that's necessary to put these people in business and make them successful entrepreneurs."

As Buys puts it, Talking Communities is in the "room rental business": Companies, organizations and individuals rent out virtual conference space to hold events, teach courses or open shop. Some communities, like the Entrepreneur Networking Community, are open to all visitors, while others require an invitation from the community's administrator to enter.

The existing site actually evolved from an earlier business Buys founded called Audio-Tips. After going blind at the age of 40 from retinitis pigmentosa, Buys, formerly the owner of a machine shop, turned to computers and the internet to provide himself with new business opportunities. Audio-Tips made computer and internet instructions available in audio downloads.

Though Talking Communities is open to everyone, Buys sees the site being of particular use to disabled entrepreneurs. "I have four nephews who are going blind from the same eye disease I have, and my son is legally blind," Buys says. "I have a great desire to change public opinion and open up opportunities for the disabled community, and with this type of technology, the internet really levels the playing field for disabled folks."

To join Talking Communities' Entrepreneur Networking Community, visit www.talkingcommunities.com/enc and click the sign-up link. After filling out a few fields, you'll receive a confirmation e-mail letting you know you're a member of the community. Joining this community is free.

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