Many accounting firms that serve small private companies no longer use only generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). In a survey by the American Institute of CPAs, 81% of 2,175 respondents specializing in private-company clients sometimes use such nontraditional standards as tax or cash basis. That's "more than anybody expected," says survey chairman Jacob Cohen. But as GAAP adds more requirements, it becomes less relevant to the management of small companies and more expensive than alternative methods.

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The latest twist in strategic alliances and venture capital? The Primer Fund, which plans to make its money not by taking small portfolio companies public, but by selling its stake to large corporations, often Japanese companies that have invested in the fund. "We're financing the courtship period," says Sandra Shaw of Techno-Venture USA, the subsidiary of a Japanese venture firm.

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A few lucky small growth companies in the Pacific Northwest are being "adopted" and getting a year's worth of free consulting. The Portland, Ore., accounting office of Moss Adams organized a statewide "adopt an emerging business" contest last year with a law firm and bank. The program is so popular it is now being tried in several other area cities. One reason: the experts get lots of good PR while demonstrating their skills.

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Can businesses develop a better system to communicate their needs to high-school students? The American Business Conference, a coalition of midsize growth companies, plans to start three regional projects this fall in which local CEOs will visit schools and help develop standards that students could meet to get better jobs upon graduation. Meanwhile, in Tampa, the Educational Testing Service will begin piloting its Worklink project. The eventual aim is for businesses that are recruiting to use an electronic database listing students' accomplishments and skills. This would give non-college-bound students an incentive to do better in school.

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Companies are rethinking retirement plans. Last year the number of U.S. businesses offering some type of plan decreased for the first time in at least 14 years. While the number of plans with defined contributions -- like profit sharing and 401(k)s -- grew, it was outpaced by the decrease in traditional defined benefit plans, according to the American Society of Pension Actuaries. The reason: harsh provisions of 1986 tax reform, implemented via onerous IRS regulations, hit small companies especially hard. Donna Hopson, past president of the National Institute of Pension Administrators, reports that in the past two years its members, who serve mostly small clients, have terminated 29% more plans than they've started.

-- Martha E. Mangelsdorf