The next generation of CEOs is getting a head start through increasingly popular high school entrepreneurship classes. In California alone, 160 public high schools are offering entrepreneurship courses this year, about double last year's total. Typically, classes last one semester and present such standard subjects as business-plan writing. But some programs, like two in New York City, go further by actually helping teenagers start businesses. Says program founder Steve Mariotti: "I think every child should have started a company by the time he or she graduates.'
We keep hearing about small companies forming industry networks to gain economies of scale and to share information electronically. Here's the latest example of both: a group of business-to-business collection agencies that pool accounts via a shared computer system and then allocate them geographically, while splitting commissions. The aim? To carve up the U.S. into about 65 territories, so that the network can offer on-location dunning of debtors anywhere in the country. Since April, the New Orleans-based network, called Adams, Baker & Doyle Inc., has signed up some 40 member companies.
Look for the feds to start paying their bills faster, now that Congress has amended the Prompt Payment Act of 1982. That law was supposed to solve the problem, but agencies soon figured out loopholes. The new amendments aim to plug the holes. Now, for example, agencies have to calculate the payment period from the day an invoice is received at the first office it is directed to, rather than rerouting the bill for months before acknowledging receipt. "I'm looking forward to another lull in the battle," says Kenton Pattie of the Coalition for Prompt Pay.
The newest wrinkle in the trend toward privatization of government services? Privately built and maintained infrastructure that reverts to government ownership after a number of years. In June, a North Dakota company completed the first private toll bridge in recent U.S. history, between Fargo, N.D., and Moorhead, Minn. Now, company partner Richard Kluzak is looking for other such ventures. New York City-based Municipal Development Corp., meanwhile, is behind an effort to build and operate a private toll road in Virginia. Projects like these are still rare, but -- given inadequate infrastructure and tight government budgets -- they may not remain so.
Trade associations are giving a boost to export trading companies (ETCs), which allow small companies to collaborate on international projects without violating antitrust laws. Congress authorized formation of ETCs in 1982, but the response was weak. By early 1987, fewer than 500 companies were participating in ETCs. Recently, however, a number of trade associations have formed blanket ETCs, covering about 4,000 companies, and Commerce officials say more associations are applying. The question: will small companies use their group memberships to do more exporting?
More companies are emerging to help employers set up dependent-care assistance plans (DCAPs), which enable employees to set aside pretax dollars for child care. Such plans largely pay for themselves out of saved payroll taxes, but can cost thousands of dollars to establish. Enter companies like SectionCare Inc., a Nashville start-up that markets a turnkey DCAP for $685, and National Employee Benefit Consultants Inc., in Denver, which helps employers set up pretax accounts using standard forms, starting at $500. Then there's Voucher Corp., of Los Angeles, which has recently gone national with a DCAP voucher plan; it charges a commission based on the number of participating employees.
-- By Martha E. Mangelsdorf* * *
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