Funding for Illinois Exporters Continues: Goodbye STEP, Hello ISTEP

Jim Ryan, International Trade Specialist,
Illinois SBDC International Trade Center

In the past two years, the Illinois SBDC International Trade Center at Bradley University (ITC) has utilized the federally funded State Trade and Export Promotion Program (STEP) to send clients to Canada, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Australia.

STEP proved to be an amazing asset in driving exports from small and medium sized businesses in Central Illinois.  However, federal funding of the program in Illinois has not been extended.  Fortunately, unwilling to relinquish such a beneficial tool in providing support for export promotion, the State of Illinois through the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity has introduced the Illinois State Trade and Export Promotion Program or ISTEP.

ISTEP has streamlined the application process, while retaining the most beneficial elements of the previous program. ISTEP funding reimburses either 25, 50 or 75 percent of an Illinois exporter’s approved, overseas travel expenses up to $5,000, or $7,500 incurred while engaged in such activities as participating in ISTEP designated trade missions, trade shows or overseas match-making and distributor searches. ISTEP will also continue to offer financial assistance to cover 50 percent of costs (not to exceed $5,000) for Illinois small and medium sized businesses to comply with foreign laws and regulations related to exporting, such as Europe’s CE mark or ISO registration. 

Financial support is always welcomed by businesses looking to break into exports or expand their foreign markets.  However, it has been the unparalleled support in the form of research, briefings and on-the-ground expertise and matchmaking that has impressed our clients the most.

Sue Smith, President of SS Marine Products, Inc. in Farmington, states, “While most people will look to the program as a means to offset expenses, the ultimate value for us has been the help from the International Trade Center at Bradley University and the US Commercial Service.  Along with walking us through the ISTEP application process, they have helped us get all of our I's dotted and T's crossed when it comes to exporting.” 

Smith will be utilizing the ISTEP grant to attend the Marine Equipment Trade Show in the Netherlands. “It is rare to get this level of service when you are a small business,” she concludes. 

Clearly, expectations are high for this new program, and we are looking forward to making ISTEP an even bigger success. The ITC is currently recruiting for ISTEP Trade Missions in December.  Please find the calendar of remaining trade shows below.  If you would like more information, or would like to apply for ISTEP grant funding please call 309 677-3075 or email

2014 - 2015 Events:

  1. December 6-14 – Promote Trade Show and Matchmaking in Senegal – Yaounde, Cameroon and Dakar, Senegal
  2. January 26-29- Arab Health – Dubai, UAE
  3. February 10-12 – Bio India – Bangalore, India
  4. March 2015 – Win Automation – Istanbul, Turkey
  5. March 1-3 – Canadian Restaurant & Foodservices Association Trade Show – Toronto, Canada
  6. March 2-5 – Mobile World Congress – Barcelona, Spain
  7. March 10-12 – WETEX – Dubai, UAE
  8. April 6-17 – 18th China International Nutrition and Health Industry Expo – Beijing, China
  9. April 13-17 – Hannover Messe Trade Fair – Hannover, Germany
  10. May 7-9 – Aqua Tech – New Delhi, India
  11. May 13-15 – BIOtech Japan – Tokyo, Japan
  12. May 23-June 3 – Copperbelt Mining Show and Matchmaking in South Africa – Zitwe, Zambia and Johannesburg, South Africa
  13. June 16-19 – ExpoPack – Mexico City, Mexico
  14. June 2015 – Global Petroleum Show – Calgary, Canada
  15. June 1-4 - Medicare Taiwan - Taipei, Taiwan
  16. June 15-21 – Paris Air Show – Paris, France
  17. June 15-22 – Machinery and Automatic Control Trade Mission and Matchmaking – Beijing and Shanghai, China