The Rise of the Global Small Business

May 14, 2014 By Richard Crespin

Global trade matters only to large, multinational companies, right? Wrong.

According to a report by eBay, Commerce 3.0 for Development, “over 95 percent of the small businesses analyzed in the study engaged in exporting.” With the advent of the Internet, the financial and technical barriers to global trade have come crashing down and businesses of all sizes with access to a broadband connection can now plug into the global economy.

Many of these small businesses have taken on a deep social mission, looking not only to make profits, but to spread prosperity. With the help of the U.S. government’s international affairs agencies, social entrepreneurs – as well as traditional entrepreneurs – are popping up all over America, solving tough global problems while generating a return for the American shareholder and taxpayer.

These companies have found it pays to create safer more reliable food, clean water, clean energy, and accessible healthcare.

I started my first small business from my college dorm room with the help of the U.S. State Department. Before the Internet, the State Department did something small but powerful. If you sent them product samples and catalogs, they would send them to embassies all over the world. With the help of a fax machine, I was soon taking orders from companies stretching from Saudi Arabia to Japan.

Things have changed a lot since then, but America’s support for its entrepreneurs has remained constant.

For example, last year I attended Unreasonable@State, a gathering of world-class social entrepreneurs working on major global challenges. While there, I got to know Shivani Siroya, CEO of InVenture. Having put in her time at traditional financial institutions like UBS and Citigroup, she realized that many of the world’s smallest businesses suffer from a lack of something many of us take for granted: financial records. Without access to simple tools like spreadsheets – and even less basic accounting software  – small businesses from Brooklyn to Bangalore can’t open checking accounts or apply for loans.

She and her team came up with an idea: accounting by text message. With this simple but powerful idea, InVenture won a $100,000 grant from USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures competition. They’re now scaling up to serve 10 financial institutions and 500,000 individuals. And this idea doesn’t just work in developing countries, it works for anyone with access to a basic flip phone, connecting businesses at home and abroad to the global financial system, opening up new markets for American goods and services.

In the spirit of Small Business Week, we invite you to peruse some of the other U.S. companies that are doing well while doing good. And if you have a small business, we’d love to hear about your innovations in global development. Email your story to [email protected].