Microsoft’s Big Assist to Small Business

Software giant sponsors free online summit

Current and would-be entrepreneurs hungry for help to start or better manage their enterprises can turn to Microsoft’s Small Business Summit taking place March 24–27. This virtual conference is free to attend, allowing participants to enjoy a wide range of sessions from the comfort of their computers.

Conference organizers are expecting approximately 200,000 people to join in, up from the 8,500 who participated in the first Microsoft Small Business Summit held in 2006. The huge increase in attendees can be attributed to the focus being on experts and successful small business people sharing their experience and knowledge with the virtual audience, says Frederic De Wulf, Microsoft’s Web Director for Small and Mid-size Businesses (SMBs). “The focus is not on selling products, but on things important to entrepreneurs, like how to market your business online, how to better manage your money, and how to be more productive while out of the office.”

The online event promises to provide valuable small business programming each day. There are more than 50 sessions in all, featuring experts in marketing, technology, and finance. And the vast majority of presenters are not Microsoft employees, but real small business people. Among the featured presenters are African American female entrepreneurs Michele Hoskins, CEO of Michele Foods, and Tina Wells, founder and CEO of the Buzz Marketing Group.

Wells’ marketing session on “Building Buzz,” is intended to help entrepreneurs target their customers like a pro and is scheduled to take place on Day 1—March 24th. Her Voorhees, New Jersey-based firm is celebrating its 11th year as a market research firm that focuses on the interests and habits of young people ages 16 to 24. Wells, 27, started the company when she was 16. Buzz Marketing Group posted $3 million in revenue in 2006 and $4 million in 2007. Clients include Procter & Gamble and Sony BMG.

Hoskins’ business session, “Sweet Success,” which will cover her personal startup story, is on March 27. Hoskins used her great-grandmother’s recipe for syrup to launch Michele Foods, a company with products found in more than 10,000 stores nationwide, including Wal-Mart, Shop N Stop, Super Target, and Kroger. Michele Foods also has a partnership with Denny’s and Church’s Chicken chains to provide condiments. Revenues were $60 million in 2007 for the Chicago-based company that has been in business for more than 19 years.

Finding information isn’t a huge challenge anymore. Sifting through the all the Websites, blogs, e-newsletters is becoming second nature for many entrepreneurs. A special bonus of the Microsoft Small Business Summit, however, is that anyone who attends any of the sessions between 12 p.m. ET – 4 p.m. ET, will have an opportunity to pose questions to the experts directly, making the event truly interactive.

Sessions will be delivered as streaming video and audio broadcasts that can be viewed online as they happen live. Immediately following the live broadcast of the Microsoft Small Business Summit, the sessions for that day will be re-broadcast. Each session will be recorded and available for viewing on demand online. For

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