March 20, 2009

U.S. Government Creates an Online Community for Small Businesses

On March 18, 2009, the United States Small Business Administration (SBA) announced the creation of the Business Gateway Program and "a new Web initiative – – the first government-sponsored online community built specifically for small businesses."

The Community is a "place where you and fellow business owners can discuss and share the information that you need to start and run a successful business. Every business owner's issues are different: You may need help with a specific problem or you may have valuable insight to share." Registration is free (although the password requirement is a bit cumbersome) and I found the website easy to navigate.

The Community is open to discussions and questions on important issues to business owners. The community is divided into the 3 areas:
  1. Discussion Topics in which members ask and answer questions, and discuss business issues;
  2. Idea Exchanges in which members give ideas on how to improve and refine the pages on the website; and
  3. Expert Insight & News which provide articles on timely business topics.

In addition to the Community, I am a registered user of the U.S. Department of Interior Office of Insular Affairs (OIA) Island Business Link, which "is an online global network of businesses and organizations interested in growth opportunities in the U.S. affiliated Pacific islands and U.S. Virgin Islands." I joined the Island Business Link because of my interest in the Federated States of Micronesia (please see "The Way Forward: Utilizing Fiber Optic Technology for Sustainable Economic Development"). The purpose of OIA's initiative is to help facilitate business and procurement opportunities.

It is too early to determine the monetization value of joining these online communities, but I find them useful in gaining information to the challenges and opportunities of conducting business in challenging market conditions. These communities serve as an opportunity for entrepreneurs to learn from each other's successes and mistakes. Please feel free to share your experiences with online communities designed specifically for business development.

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