“A new generation of online mega-hubs called e-marketplaces or e-exchanges may soon make standard websites obsolete, declared Erin Hiraoka of Bcentral.Com. This was just one of the startling announcements that came out of the first E-Commerce Summit and Town Hall Meeting sponsored by the Seattle-Tacoma Office of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). The SBA co-hosted the E-Commerce Summit at the Microsoft Conference Center in Redmond. Over 400 small businesses signed-up for the free, half day Town Hall Meeting with e-commerce experts. Some on the panel of e-commerce experts thought Hiraoka’s remark was inaccurate. All panelists, however, seemed to agree with Samantha Wilkinson of NVST.com who said, Emerging e-marketplaces can provide you with instant access to thousands of qualified buyers and sellers in your industry at a fraction of the cost and hassle. The latest trend in e-commerce is to let someone else do it for you, said Fred Hochberg, Deputy Administrator for the SBA. Stay focused on your core business, said Joann Francis, SBA’s Northwest Regional Administrator based in Seattle. Out source all the business processes that can be handled using today’s high-tech specialty companies such as your e-marketing, website management, accounting, and 24/7 customer service. Take advantage of new highly automated resources, including free website creation. And contact your re-invented 21st century SBA.The SBA is on the leading edge in educating small businesses about e-commerce, said Summit co-host Aaron Bernstein of Microsoft. No other organization, he added, is so dedicated, so informed, and so positioned to assist America’s 23 million small businesses. These small businesses employ one-half the private work force, generate half of the nation’s gross domestic product, and are the principle source of new jobs in America. The participants listened to a panel of experts explain new evolutions in e-commerce. You don’t need an elaborate web site, said Erin Hiraoka of Bcentral.com. Simply affiliate with a number of available sites who will sell your product or service for you.Experts estimate that transactions on these e-marketplaces will skyrocket from $200 billion annually to nearly three trillion dollars by 2004. Bcentral.com, a Microsoft affiliate, said that they can provide inroads to a number of application service providers that can free up businesses from time consuming tech work and allow the business to concentrate on what they went into business to do. As a start, Hiraoka said, you should identify the e-marketplaces which focus on your particular industry. To find them, check out two leading B2B directories: B2businessNet at www.b2business.net, and Line 56 at www.line56.com. The Internet helps to level the playing field so the small businesses can compete with the big guys, said Hiraoka. The growth of e-commerce looks like a hockey stick, she added. In 1999 eight percent of all business was through e-commerce. By 2002 it will be seventy-two percent. This is nothing less than a revolution. Many participants were very excited about the information they received.For the first time, I don’t feel overwhelmed by all the high tech advancements, said David Keller, owner of a vitamin company, which makes nutritional drinks that are balanced with the body using research by the Mayo Clinic. One attendee said, I used to think of the SBA as a place where minorities went to get tiny business loans. Instead, I feel like they are providing me with a business consulting service with e-commerce experts and e-commerce sites specifically geared to help me launch my business on the web. And at no charge. Wow! That’s like a hundred-thousand-dollar consul-tant, or CIO, for free. I’m pumped! One speaker, Irene Reyes, owner of Excel Gloves, who described herself as very low-tech, related her SBA experi-ence: In just a matter of months with advice from the SBA, I was using the Internet to submit bids to the state. And guess what? Last month I received a one and half million dollar order!This produced a loud applause from the entire audience. Irene also added, I am always going to two websites to get help with the high-tech jargon–webopedia.com and whatis.com. Two panelists discussed future trends. Transmission speeds of 10 gigabits per second will be available down the road using dense wave division multi-plexing or DWDM, said Pat Beechum, a solutions engineer with Qwest.Beechum said DWDM will allow the use of a single light wave, called a lambda, to be individually assigned to a user. Dan Fine of BOT, Inc said, to protect our security we will soon have ‘bots,’ short for personal on-line digitized ‘robots,’ that will hide our identity and conduct all of our transactions on our behalf with a suppliers ‘bot.’ This will allow each of us to remain anonymous, Fine predicted. Mike Simon of Conjungi Networks said, that soon people will realize that it’s safer to give your credit card over the Internet than giving it to a taxi driver or waiter. He added, the maximum liability anyone has for fraudulent use of their credit card is only $50. So, it’s only a matter of time before security around a purchase will be a non-issue. Attendee Mary Daniels, who makes one-of-a-kind water sculptures, said, This Summit was the first time I felt I could get a handle on the whole e-commerce opportunity. The SBA has shown me a path to their door. And I’m going to walk in.All were encouraged to ask about SBA’s Business Information Centers, Tribal Business Information, One Stop Capital Shops, Service Corps of Retired Executives, Small Business Development Centers, U.S. Export Assistance Centers, Women’s Business Centers, a business resource center at www.onlinewbc.gov, http://pronet.sba.gov, and available publications and videos. SBA Deputy Director Hochberg concluded his remarks by saying Most people don’t know that the SBA participated in the launch of INTEL, COMPAQ, SunMicrosystems, and Apple Computer. He honored Microsoft for its contribution of software and computers which helped launch the SBA’s business information centers. The current trend under the Clinton-Gore administration is to move government services ever closer to e-gov., Hochberg said. Our goal is to increase accessibility. A person without a dime can come to the SBA and have free access to computers, software and the Internet. Within that goal is to increase the speed and efficiency of government services while simultaneously reducing the size and cost of government.He added that Vice President Gore has been pushing this for years in his re-invent the government program. In the past eight years the Clinton-Gore administration has guaranteed $19 billion dollars in loans. That is double the number of loans made in the entire previous 40 years., he said. Forty percent of those loans went to women-owned businesses. Maybe one of the men or women here in the Puget Sound area will launch the next INTEL with a little support from the SBA. It could happen. David King Keller is a freelance photojournalist and small business owner who lives in Seattle.He is currently incubating Dial311.com, a network service center. “
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