Many banks still won't finance growing companies' international trade, but a few alternatives are appearing. Since early 1988 at least three merchant banks have formed to fund small exporters and importers -- for a share of the transactions. Ex-bankers started Bristol International Ltd., in Dallas, and Trading Alliance Corp., in New York City, while Colorado International Capital is a for-profit partnership between the Colorado Housing & Finance Authority and four businessmen. Meanwhile, U.S. Ex-Im Bank is training more states and cities to help small companies apply for export loan guarantees. But that guarantee is useless if banks won't make the loan, as L.A. found -- so the city set up its own loan fund.

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Entrepreneurship on campus isn't just academic anymore; it's a competitive sport. Many schools now have annual contests for the best student business plan, and a four-year-old international business-plan contest for students attracts more than 100 entries each year, according to organizer Tim Mescon of the Frank Perdue School of Business at Salisbury (Md.) State University. This year the University of Texas has even created an entrepreneurship league of sorts: six business schools sent their top M.B.A.s to compete for a trophy in a "Moot Corp." contest. Wharton, meanwhile, has started a $1-million seed-capital fund to invest in student ventures.

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For the first time in years the Small Business Administration is worried about running out of money for its loan-guarantee program. During the first six months of this fiscal year, loan demand so outstripped the SBA budget that the agency banned refinancing loans for about two months in order to stay within budget. After shifting $200 million from less-used programs in late March, the SBA eased the restrictions -- and hopes the extra money will last until the fiscal year ends in the fall. The problem? Funding for loan guarantees was cut under the Reagan Administration. But now, banks are sure the agency will survive, says Tony Wilkinson of the National Association of Government Guaranteed Lenders. So more are making SBA-guaranteed loans.

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A group of small Minnesota medical companies, working with the state, has developed an innovative way to approach potential big customers. In a pilot program, state health-care specialist Patricia Neuman has created a catalog of small medical companies and begun using it to set up meetings with purchasing groups that supply many hospitals. The purchasing group selects attendees from the catalog. The first such meeting, last December, has so far led to sales for 2 of the 17 companies invited, with others under consideration. Neuman has a similar marketing effort for nonprofit substance-abuse programs.

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More states are likely to begin using a new, simplified securities-registration form for small public offerings of less than $1 million, pioneered by Washington State ("Hotline," February 1989, [Article link]). The North American Securities Administrators Association recently endorsed the U-7 form, which serves as the form for a prospectus and can be completed by lawyers who aren't securities specialists. NASAA general counsel Lee Polson predicts that in "a matter of months" many states will begin allowing the form for small offerings -- whether in-state or interstate -- that are exempt from SEC registration.

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Couples in business together have a new name and a new organization. Sharan and Frank Barnett, who ran an advertising agency together for five years, have switched careers to write a book called Working Together (Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, Calif.) and to form the Eugene, Ore.-based National Association of Entrepreneurial Couples, serving what they say is a growing number of copreneurs. What's wrong with the traditional moniker mom-and-pop? "There was a need for a new term," Frank Barnett says. "These are egalitarian relationships that we feel have grown out of the women's movement."

-- Martha E. Mangelsdorf