For companies that want to get word of their goods or services out to the masses cheaply, the Internet sounds like a dream come true. But for companies that want to seek out and conduct serious business with other companies, the Internet is more of a nightmare. Consider: The Internet offers no way to bypass its dominant population of students and other young consumers to target companies. If you do find takers for your product, you can't know exactly whom you're dealing with. And even if you were somehow to luck onto exactly the right company, there are no standard means of undertaking a secure transaction over the Net.

Enter IBEX, the International Business Exchange Network, which was recently introduced by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a consortium of partners, including Global Business Alliance, AT&T, GE Information Services, and Dun & Bradstreet. You could think of IBEX as a business-to-business Internet or as an electronic commodities exchange where the commodities include whatever goods or services your company happens to be buying or selling.

It costs $250 to sign up for IBEX, plus a usage fee that the network's backers say comes to between $50 and $250 a month for active users. For those fees, any company with a PC and a modem gets IBEX's PC software, which allows the company to type in a description of what it's offering or seeking, be it 60 wheels of cheese, a site for a shopping mall, or a way to transport exotic plants. The description gets zipped via modem to the network, where it becomes available to other IBEX subscribers searching for their own buyers and sellers. Prospective transactors can examine one another's company profiles -- and even check Dun & Bradstreet's database of company reports for more information -- before sealing the deal on-line.

There's just one qualification: for security reasons, IBEX management advises against accessing the service via the Internet. To find out more, contact the Global Business Alliance at 613-230-5371.