Open data opens opportunities for small business


You know it’s holiday shopping season when the toy commercials start popping up to lure toddlers, Thanksgiving dinner has to be moved up so shoppers can get to the mall and small business owners remind the shopping public of their unique merchandise and contributions to the main street economy.

Saturday, November 29 is Small Business Shopping Day, a day to shop local and a prompt to highlight the data/information resources that government agencies provide independent business entrepreneurs and developers.

Admittedly there’s more information than small business people have time to ferret out; still, it’s a worth noting that wise use of good information pays handsomely in terms of time and investment saved and income produced. Bill Gates, who once qualified as a small businessman, has pointed out that good advice, combined with good ideas, is the secret of success.

Good advice is the purported business of several government agencies, programs and resources. Small Business Shopping Day offers a reminder to take critical look at the good advice, the data, the outreach, priorities, and online resources of the SBA and of other agencies designed to support small business.

The Small Business Administration is most obvious first step for advice. SBA is the nerve center of a vast distributed network of helping agencies, including Small Business Development Centers, Women’s Business Centers, Veterans Business Outreach Centers, US. Export Assistance Centers, Minority Business Development Centers, programs for people with disabilities, for American Indians, even a web-based Young Entrepreneur Series. SBA also supports and works closely with SCORE, an independent nonprofit that matches retired executives with entrepreneurs.

Perhaps best known of SBA’s program is the small business loan program. For example, small business developers need to know that federal government procurement contracts for small businesses; 23% of prime contracts are earmarked for small business, with funds set aside for women-owned, disadvantaged and service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses.

The SBA website offers a wide mix of chats, videos, training on how and why to start a business, the basics of entrepreneurship, how to hire and fire, taxes, contracts, regulations, lots about patents and copyrights, intellectual property rights, even a training session on how to “get out” with tips on how to close the door when the time has come.

With an eye to the nature of many digital age small business new sites have sprung up; examples include the Intellectual Property Rights Center ( and Stopfakes ( which deals in part with trade negotiations and international commerce.

Small business developers who are interested in knowing more about export opportunities can tap into Business USA, ( launched in October 2011 to make it easier for America’s small businesses and exporters to access government services.

For information seekers encounter problems or want to understand their right to know, SBA offers a useful online guide to the agency’s requirements and procedures as defined in the SBA’s compliance for the Freedom of Information Act.

Clearly, timely information is an indispensable tool for the entrepreneur. At the same time, keeping an eye on the quality and accessibility of government information is the business of any concerned member of the public who cares about a robust economy fueled by the energy and ideas of small business people.