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Six Giants Open Doors to Small Business

Six marquee names in corporate America — AT&T, Bank of America, Citigroup, IBM, Pfizer and UPS — have agreed to standardize and simplify the application process for small- and mid-sized businesses to compete for the nearly $159 billion in contracts for goods and services these companies collectively award each year.

The “Supplier Connection,” a free website open to the public, will provide a single electronic application form that will make the application process more transparent. In essence, it will provide one-stop shopping for small- and mid-sized businesses that hope to develop a partnership with these companies. IBM, which will create and maintain the site, expects it to launch in the first quarter of 2011.

One of the frequent complaints from the small businesses is that it’s difficult to get a foot in the door when trying to become a vendor for large corporations . Applications forms, formats and requirements vary from company to company, which makes it difficult for small suppliers to enter the supply chain of even one large company. The process can require significant investments in time, money and expertise.

By contrast, the Supplier Connection application process is expected to only take two hours. During the application process, companies will be able to enter information the kinds of goods and services they can provide, their business history and information about what will make them a valuable part of the supply chain, said Ari Fishkind, an IBM spokesman.

“It will simplify research and reporting and streamline the application process,” he said.

“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,” said Alison Bates Fisher, senior events designer at Main Event, a 30-employee catering company. “It there was an easy way to streamline the application process, I would take advantage of it.”

Sponsors liken the Supplier Connection to the Universal College Application, a standardized form that lets a student apply to 75 different colleges with one application.

In a recent study, the Center for an Urban Future (CUF) documented that small businesses often experience a dramatic increase in revenues and significantly increase their workforce after becoming a supplier to a large corporation.

“Most of the small businesses we interviewed more than doubled their revenues and added a significant number of jobs since first becoming a supplier to a large company,” said Jonathan Bowles, director of the CUF. “Breaking into the supply chain of a big corporation can be transformative for small businesses.”

Ned Smith

Ned was senior writer at Sweeney Vesty, an international consulting firm, and was Vice President of communications for iQuest Analytics. Before that, he has been a web editor and managed the Internet and intranet sites for Citizens Communications. He began his journalism career as a police reporter with the Roanoke (Va.) Times, and was managing editor of American Way magazine and senior editor of Us. He was a Captain in the U.S. Air Force and has a masters in journalism from the University of Arizona.