Like countless startups these days, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wants to court millennials.  

As such, the 100-year-old business advocacy group unveiled Wednesday a new entrepreneur-focused website, dubbed "Co-," specifically aimed at younger startup founders. While the site will offer practical advice and how-to guides on a wide array of topics, including collecting sales taxes, choosing the right business insurance, and running background checks on potential employees, it's also designed to liven up the chamber's somewhat musty image. 

The launch party, which is expected to take place later on Wednesday in New York City, will feature fireside chats with Katia Beauchamp, the co-founder and CEO of beauty subscription service BirchBox, and Sarah LaFleur, the co-founder and CEO of the e-commerce clothing company MM.LaFleur. Head over to Co-'s homepage and you'll see a prominent photo of a fresh-faced Amy Vener, Pinterest's retail strategy lead.

The site features advice from successful business leaders, such as Elan Lee the co-founder of card game Exploding Kittens, on commonly asked startup questions. Waller says an independent, "nonpartisan" editorial team based in New York City will create all of the content. The Chamber's chief product officer, Mike Morello, who was previously Inc.'s chief operations officer, says that Co- content will be free and have no ads. Instead, the site will rely on native advertising and sponsorships from other organizations. Eventually the Chamber wants to give business owners a way to connect with each other via free Co-created and -vetted company profile pages. 

The Chamber, which represents more than 3 million U.S. businesses--both large and small--is best known for its lobbying prowess in Washington, D.C. In recent years, however, it has sought to strengthen its ties beyond the beltway. In 2017, it expanded its annual Small Business Summit into a series of regional events, which will soon be recast under the Co- brand.

"It turns out most business owners don't care that much about D.C.," says Justin Waller, chief marketing officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Last year, the Chamber held a series of focus groups with about 150 small business owners from Texas, California, Minnesota, and New Jersey. The main takeaway: many entrepreneurs view changes at the federal level as somewhat inconsequential since they usually take a long time to trickle down to smaller businesses. So while not all business owners have a vested interest in "changing the system," he adds, "they do care about getting through it."

With those hyper-specific how-to guides--such as choosing the right wireless router for your company--Co- wants to find out which issues those entrepreneurs care about, and thus what should be at the top of the Chamber's policy agenda. "After we invest in them, we can build equity with them as a brand, and ask for their help as we advocate for them in D.C.," adds Waller. Perhaps they could even shell out $250 a year and become members. 

"If we see that you are a business that is really concerned about health care, or about H-1B visas," Waller explains, "that could be an area that we could then re-target you and ask if you would like to be part of the conversation in D.C. on that topic."

The Chamber's current members are expected to enjoy the site's offerings too. Co- has not published a company directory yet, but Waller says they are currently working on creating company pages for members of the Chamber's Small Business Council.

Published on: Feb 27, 2019