In the early 1990s, I ran a small biomedical supply company.
Out of my dorm room.
With the help of the US Department of State.
Back then, before the Internet, before email, before even mobile phones became ubiquitous, I started this little company and, with the help of the State Department, sold products all over the world. Me, my fax machine, my giant brick of a cell phone, and a network of US embassies.
Our company manufactured inoculating loops and needles (see above); the mundane but vital workaday tools of scientists (especially microbiologists) and their lab techs the world over. My business partner actually did the manufacturing and shipping out of our home state of New Mexico, but I ran marketing and international sales out of Washington, DC. While I was finishing high school and preparing to go off to college at the George Washington University, I poured over documents we’d received from the Small Business Administration. Buried in them I found this little program called “Embassy Expo”. How it worked: you could send your products and literature off the the State Department in Washington, DC and they would send them off to US Embassies hosting Embassy Expos all around the world. So I did. I packaged up our products with a few brochures and a price list and mailed it to the State Department. Then we waited.
I’d actually forgotten all about it until in the middle of the night my fax machine started making its high pitched beeps and my roommate started making his high pitched whine telling me to shut it up. I got up, bleary-eyed, and went to turn the machine off. But there it was – our beautiful, glorious first order from the United Arab Emirates. A few weeks later, an order from Japan. A few weeks after that, orders from Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and more. Soon we’d firmly established an international clientele and I’d secured a reliable way to pay my tuition.
The State Department doesn’t offer the program any more. Possibly the victim of the Internet or of the bureaucratic pendulum swinging away from diplomacy and development supporting American commerce and trade. Whatever the reason, that program still stands out as a shining example of how my government helped me build a business and pay for college. And of how it could do so again if it can muster the political will and resources.
By Richard Crespin, CEO at CollaborateUp
A version of this blog was published on Trade Vistas, a CSIS publication.