The U.S. Small Business Innovation for International Trade:

Connecting Global Partners Virtually  A trip to an international trade show can open lucrative international sales for small businesses seeking to export.  These visits provide the opportunity to meet with and observe buyers, talk with potential strategic partners, and view competitor products that have always been part of the process.  Over the last 10 years, the SBA, with the State Trade Expansion Program (STEP), sponsored over 7,500 trips by U.S. small businesses to trade shows, resulting in more than $1.9 billion in sales to international customers. 

Yet the disruptions of the past year, such as COVID-19 travel restrictions and Trade Show cancellations, created the need for U.S. small business innovation.  The promise of virtual business matchmaking, and the help STEP offers, hold the potential to pave the way for more small businesses to sell overseas – only differently.

Thanks to the expertise of one U.S. small business, Kallman Worldwide, virtual trade opportunities are meeting pent-up demand.  Kallman’s expertise, before the pandemic, was organizing USA national pavilions at trade shows for both small and large businesses.  With an eye for opportunity amidst disruption, the expertise in the industry, knowledge of the players, and some help from a Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) loan, Kallman pivoted their business into developing online platforms for trade designed to keep U.S. companies connected with their global partners.

STEP California saw an opportunity to help their 5,000 companies in the aerospace and defense sector, one of the State’s hardest-hit industries.  Working with Kallman over the past year, California STEP rolled out eight online trade shows, with support from the SBA, STEP grants, and marketing and outreach assistance from the U.S. Commercial Service.  These online events helped support over $1 million in sales contracts in Latin America and Asia.  One 50-year-old California business, Hill Flight Support (Chatsworth, CA), revitalized a dormant relationship in Chile to sell fixed and rotary U.S. military aircraft parts.  According to Terry Lee, Chief Operating Officer, Hill Flight Support LLC, the Kallman online meetings were key, “Chile was a successful virtual conference for us that turned into an actual business.”

Jeff Williamson, Director, California STEP, said, “Online trade shows are a new environment for most companies. When you can provide a sample of what the companies will receive, make it compatible with their needs, and work with credible partners to deliver the service, people will be interested to try it out.  That’s what the California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development and California STEP have been doing with Kallman.”

In early March, Kallman opened the USA Aerospace & Defense SHOWCASE with the tagline “Connections that Click!” The SHOWCASE already features over 150 innovative U.S. companies offering thousands of individual products and services, and the list of exhibitors and professional trade visitors expands every day.  California businesses are taking advantage of this event with several benefits.  No planes.  No jetlag.  No crowded exposition halls.  No scramble to find your buyer and compete for their attention. 

As Tom Kallman, President and CEO of Kallman Worldwide points out, “You know the expression ‘You can’t be in two places at once?’ Well, we have cracked that nut wide open.  Now you can literally be EVERYWHERE at once, 24/7/365, should you so desire, and you can be there while seated in your own office, wherever that may be!”

The SBA is designing our booth now, following the lead of the U.S. Departments of Commerce and Defense.  An online trade show lets the SBA make our trade finance experts available in real-time to small businesses as they craft competitive terms negotiating deals with overseas buyers. 

Kallman’s long-term strategy is based on the bet that there will be a demand for online media platforms connected to in-person, international trade shows under the “new normal” for those who cannot or choose not to travel.  If the bet pays off, small businesses may find it easier than ever to enter the global marketplace and grow their company’s sales. 

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