President Obama has declared the week of May 20th – 26th National Small Business Week, 2012. The Presidential Declaration refers to small businesses as the backbone of the US economy. It also uses the opportunity to highlight two key initiatives begun by the Obama Administration to promote and support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and encourage greater trade among SMEs throughout the Western Hemisphere. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the small business sector is just as important to economic growth and development.

The Small Business Network of the Americas (SBNA) was announced on April 13, 2012 in Tampa by President Obama. The SBNA aims to expand the U.S. small business development center model to countries in the hemisphere. There are about 1,000 such centers located throughout the United States, which provide business counseling, training, market research, and trade match-making services to SMEs. The SBNA also calls for leveraging the resources of the diaspora, using business competition platforms – La IdEA and Caribbean Idea Marketplace. (A similar competition for Africa – the African Diaspora Marketplace – has been in existence for a couple of years.) To address the lack of access to finance, SBNA will also provide $100 million in loan guarantees and catalyze private sector lending to SMEs throughout the region.

The second Presidential initiative is the Women’s Entrepreneurship in the Americas (WEAmericas). This initiative aims to leverage public-private partnerships to increase women’s economic participation and address the barriers that women confront when starting and growing SMEs: access to training and networks, access to markets, and access to finance.

To be truly successful, these initiatives need to be able to bring their programs and resources to the level of the micro-enterprises scattered throughout the hemisphere. The Caribbean Idea Marketplace competition, for example, requires that, among other criteria, the winning companies be able to match the US $100,000 grant! Telecommunications, technology, and transportation today allow even a one-person operation with a good business idea to be an active player in international business. Today’s start-up company could be tomorrow’s global competitor, but only with access to the necessary resources.

Another area requiring attention is training for SMEs in the legal do’s and don’ts of doing business internationally. An international trader faces different and often more complex rules of doing business across borders. As small players they may find it easier to fly under the radar. At the same time, SMEs can least afford the negative consequences of getting caught, which can include large penalties, removal of export privileges, or even jail time, often signaling the death of a good business model.

Email me for a copy of my FREE presentation on the Legal Do’s and Don’ts of Doing Business Internationally.