Big biz moves to help small biz

By Ben Rooney, staff reporter

NEW YORK ( -- IBM and five other major U.S. corporations said Tuesday they would make it easier for small companies to apply for billions of dollars worth of corporate contracts to help boost the economy.

AT&T (T, Fortune 500), Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500), Citigroup (C, Fortune 500), IBM, Pfizer (PFE, Fortune 500) and UPS (UPS, Fortune 500) said they will participate in a Web-based procurement system that will enable "one-stop shopping" for small and medium-sized firms seeking a combined $150 billion worth of businesses every year.

The goal is to make it easier for smaller companies to win contracts by completing just one application to supply goods and services to a number of big companies. Small businesses currently must file separate applications for each company and repeat the process for new contracts to provide services ranging from catering to construction.

The IBM International Foundation, the tech giant's philanthropy arm, will provide a $10 million grant to operate a new Web site called "Supplier Connection." The Web site will be fully funded by the foundation and will be free of charge for both small and big businesses.

IBM (IBM, Fortune 500) said it expects other big companies to join the initiative after the Web site launches in the first quarter of 2011.

The companies involved say the program could help lift the economy by simplifying a complicated and costly process. That, they say, will take some of the pressure off of small businesses, which create a majority of jobs in the United States.

"We believe opening up new markets for goods and services, and the billions of dollars spent by large companies, can be the fuel that will allow those small businesses to grow," said Stanley Litow, president of the IBM International Foundation, the tech giant's philanthropy.

Amanda Neville, a partner at Thinkso Creative, a New York City design and marketing agency with a little more than 10 employees, said her firm has been reluctant in the past to apply for contracts with big companies because of the time and costs involved.

"It has been a long and arduous process that didn't really yield anything," she said.

But Neville said the new system has the potential to make the procurement process easier to manage. "For a small business, that's huge," she said.

Alison Bates Fisher, an event designer at Main Event Caterers, said she expects the new system to increase her sales "quite a bit." While she could not say whether the program will give the Arlington, Va.-based catering business an incentive to expand beyond the 30 workers already on the payroll, she was optimistic.

"It will help me earn more money, which will help the company grow and presumably that would encourage them to hire more people," she said. To top of page

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