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Why More Small Businesses Are Getting Grants for Digital Export Strategies

Loretta Greene

Associate Administrator, Office of International Trade, Small Business Administration (SBA)

As virtual connections and digital transactions become the new normal, U.S. small businesses are positioning themselves to sell to a broader range of customers at home and abroad. Business owners are embracing new tools to enter and grow in the virtual world, and reach the 95 percent of the world’s consumers located outside the United States. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has extensive resources to help.

This year, SBA is proud to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the State Trade Expansion Program (STEP).  For the past 10 years, STEP has provided grants to help small businesses with the fundamentals of exporting, including participating in trade missions and trade shows, and utilizing technology to connect virtually with buyers. 

Recently, STEP has pivoted to help businesses take advantage of new and existing virtual tools. STEP grants help small businesses quickly prepare and serve an international customer base by funding the translation and optimization of websites, developing marketing strategies, and designing global marketing products and campaigns. 

Since STEP was created, it has helped more than 12,000 businesses to achieve $3.8 billion in exports across 141 countries.   

Funds granted

STEP grants can cover a range of costs to help small businesses move into exporting or expand into new markets with virtual services, such as:

  • Conduct customized market research to help a business determine a region or country’s market structure, trends and size, customary distribution and promotion practices, and key competitors and agents, distributors, or strategic partners.
  • Perform an initial assessment of the market potential of their product or service in a targeted market. This is called an “Initial Market Check,” and it helps gauge the prospect of a specific product or service in a market by gathering feedback from up to five industry participants and provides written recommendations on whether to pursue the target market. 
  • Provide U.S. companies with marketing services to increase awareness of their product/service in a specific market. The promotion may consist of targeted direct mail or email campaigns. 
  • Schedule virtual trade fairs to promote U.S. business products/services to potential customers or distributors partners in a foreign market via a live webinar platform.
  • Cover costs related to Rural America’s Intelligence Service for Exporters (RAISE), which helps America’s rural businesses obtain actionable market intelligence, coupled with on-the-ground knowledge of the U.S. Commercial Service staff located in the U.S. Embassies and Consulates around the globe. 

A key to expanding any business is finding more customers. In today’s modern global economy, small businesses have more tools to access the virtual world and grow their operations by entering the international marketplace.

SBA is your partner when you are looking to take your business global. Visit STEP at sba.gov to find out how to apply for STEP funding, and boost your access to the virtual world and grow your global business.  


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