Get Yourself a Government Contract

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

By Karen E. Spaeder

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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

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

Here's how it works: Go online to www.uschamber.com/events/matchmaking, theprogram's matchmaking portal, where you can register and createa company profile. The system will automatically match you withfederal, state and local government agencies and privateorganizations looking for your products or services. The $125 fee(add $60 for each additional company representative) for each eventincludes access to educational sessions, matchmaking appointments,the exhibit area, a continental breakfast and lunch for oneperson.

How can you prepare yourself for the matchmaking appointments?Simple. Just make yourself indispensable. "The real expertsare the small-business people walking in the door," saysArmendariz. "Make yourself more valuable than the next guy orgal by offering insight and experience." In other words,segregate yourself somehow. Make sure the sellers understand thatyou are the person they want to do business with because you notonly have the products or services they need, but you also reallyknow your stuff.

Robyn West, vice president of the small and medium businessdivision for Hewlett-Packard--which will support the program notonly by providing computers for on-site registration, but also byseeking its own procurement opportunities--concurs with Armendariz:"[You'll] want to touch on your areas of expertise. Peopleare going to want to do business with stable, financially viablecompanies."

Based on the few pilot events already held, the reaction to theprogram has been very encouraging, according to Armendariz."[The response] has been overwhelmingly positive--we'vehad 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, inOrlando, Florida, at the Orlando Expo Convention Center. For acomplete schedule and to register, visit www.uschamber.com/events/matchmaking.

Karen E. Spaeder

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

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