STEP Funding Sending Illinois Small Businesses Overseas
By Jim Ryan, International Trade Specialist
Illinois SBDC International Trade Center
Since October 2011, Illinois small businesses have had a unique opportunity to receive financial assistance from the state to increase exports. Illinois received $1,265,477 in State Trade and Export Promotion Program (STEP) funding for reimbursing between 50 to 75 percent of an Illinois’ exporter’s overseas travel expenses incurred while engaged in such activities as attending targeted trade shows or participating in overseas match-making and distributor searches.
The STEP program provides $30 million in grants from the U.S. Small Business Administration for an initial 12-month period. It is envisioned that STEP will continue to be funded as a three-year pilot trade and export initiative. The first year of the program will conclude this fall with all travel to be completed by September 30, 2012.
The goal is for exporters to succeed in new global markets and increase the number of small U.S. businesses that are exporting. “Attending an overseas trade show for the first time can be an enormous expense with no guarantee of success. Through STEP, we are participating in a major industry trade show in Australia, Austimber 2012,” states Chris Helle of Sawmill Hydraulics in Farmington, IL. “We expect this to open doors to new customers and expand our reach into a growing market.”
According to the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Office of Trade and Investment, as of March, 47 Illinois companies had participated in STEP Trade Missions, and Illinois SBDC International Trade Centers (ITCs) had referred 22 companies for participation in Individual Foreign Market Sales Missions.
Larry Maschhoff, the Director of the Center for Emerging Entrepreneurs at Illinois State University, identified a client who he thought could benefit from the program. “Our local ITC and the US Commercial Service helped them identify potential markets and worked them through the STEP process,” he explains. “They just left to attend a trade show in Germany to identify distributors to market their products throughout Europe.”
This hands-on approach by federal, state and local partners has proven to be successful in helping Illinois businesses identify overseas opportunities. Small businesses that would like more information, or would like to apply for STEP grant funding, can call 309 677-3075 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.