'Supplier Connection': a single portal for doing business with large corporations

New site means some fewer hoops for small businesses to jump through, and may also help fuel new growth in the economy.

This week, a consortium of larger companies, including IBM, Bank of America, Citigroup, Pfizer, and UPS announced they are supporting a standardized, single portal that enables small companies to do business with them.

The participating companies have established a free, public Website, created and maintained by IBM through a grant of more than $10 million from the IBM International Foundation.  The site, called "Supplier Connection" (www.supplier-connection.net), will provide visitors with a single, streamlined electronic application form.  The site is up now, and will be open for transactions in the first quarter of next year, organizers say.

Small vendors need only complete the application form once to potentially become suppliers to the participating companies, they add.  They will be able to more easily connect for opportunities to sell services, marketing, food, human resources, and construction, among others.

Along with alleviating administrative headaches, there's a big-picture economic boost that may come out of the initiative as well, proponents hope. "Small businesses almost single-handedly sparked the economic recovery during the nation's two previous recessions," says Jonathan Bowles, director of the Center for an Urban Future.  "We need them to do it again in these tough economic times. That's why I was so encouraged to hear about these large companies stepping up and taking such dramatic steps to provide a lift to small businesses and help reignite the economy."

A new report out of the Center for an Urban Future reveals that strikingly few small businesses become suppliers to the nation's largest corporations but argues that helping more of them make this leap could give small firms a much-needed boost and help add more spark to the economic recovery.

Supplier Connection's organizers expect to see many additional large businesses to sign up with the service. The site will have collaborative capabilities as well -- "small suppliers will learn from, and collaborate with, and sell to each other so that they can become more competitive and successful," according to the release announcing the service. "It will offer the participating companies a mechanism for sharing valuable business information with these prospective small- and mid-sized suppliers. Large companies will also have easier access to small, innovative companies that generate new products and services."

"As a busy small business, we can't spend a lot of time jumping through hoops to apply for new business that we may or may not win," says Alison Bates Fisher, senior events designer at Main Event, an Arlington, Virginia, catering company with approximately 30 employees. "I'm an expert on event planning and catering, not corporate bureaucracy."

Stanley Litow, IBM vice president of corporate citizenship & corporate affairs and president of IBM's Foundation, likens the Website to a Universal College Application, which could help students could spend less time filling out redundant forms, and focus more on academic excellence.  "That's what we're trying to do here -- let small businesses do what they do best, grow their businesses and not get bogged down in red tape."

Of course, while The Supplier Connection can provide the tools to connect to large companies, its still up to entrepreneurs and small business managers to close the deal by building trusted relationships.  As Marsha Firestone, president of the New York-based Women Presidents' Organization put it in a Wall Street Journal interview: "For most business owners, the tough part is meeting the requirements of a potential corporate client and nurturing a relationship with it," she is quoted as saying. "You have to work to make that happen."

Still, another avenue is now opening to discover and initiate those relationships.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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