May 24, 2005--A task force of businesses, non-profits, and municipalities announced plans for an initiative to increase technology use among women and minority-owned enterprises (WMEs) -- which organizers hope will give the economy a serious revenue injection.

At a press conference today in Washington, D.C., the Technology Partnership for Small Business Task Force, organized by Microsoft and the U.S. Department of Commerce's Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA), recommended a seven-step approach to improving WMEs use of technology.

The first two solutions, which were introduced today, are the creation of an online portal with technology resources and a seminar tour. The seminars in particular will attempt to address what is one of the biggest barriers of entry for small businesses looking to adopt technology: a lack of quality know-how and support. They will be held in seven metropolitan areas and will be free and open to the public.

Ronald Langston, the MBDA's national director, said that small businesses do not always realize how easy and inexpensive it can be to adopt basic technologies. "The point of entry is not that high," he said. "Maintaining a website is not that expensive."

Recommendations were based on a 2004 study, which found that while there is not a significant gap between computer use among small WMEs versus other small businesses, aggressive adoption of technology can significantly increase a firm's productivity and profitability. If small WME's were to make the jump, researches found that it could lead to as much as $200 billion in additional revenue and help close the achievement gap that exists between women and minority owners and their white, male counterparts.

Langston said that the task force is important because minorities will represent the primary engine for economic growth over the next 50 years. "It is critical that minority enterprises are viable within the U.S. economy," he said. "Technology is important because it's a leveling tool, it's a competitive-advantage tool, and it's a stay-in-step tool."

It is also good business for Microsoft, which wants to improve its offerings for small and mid-market firms.

Though there are no small businesses on the task force, Gayle Cruise, Micrsoft's marketing manager for diversity, said that group plans to reach out to small businesses in other ways, such as by creating case studies of MWEs that have successfully used technology.

"As a first step we wanted to engage organizations that had small business owners as constituents," said Cruise. "We [will] make sure the solutions that have been developed are relevant. This is not an ivory tower approach."