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State Trade Expansion Program: A Gift for Small Businesses
November 29, 2016 Elizabeth Thomas, Business Development Specialist, Office of Small Business
For a small business, the idea of exporting may seem daunting and the investment in moving forward involves researching new markets, attracting new customers and traveling to international destinations. Sound scary and expensive? There are many, many resources to help you. Today, we’re focusing on the STEP Program, a federal/state partnership intended to increase the number of small businesses that export, and help small businesses that already export increase the value of goods and services they sell to overseas customers.

Who manages the program?
The STEP program is managed at the federal level by the Office of International Trade, part of the U.S. Small Business Administration. States assign responsibility for managing the STEP Program to an economic development office focused on international trade.

What services does the STEP Program provide?
Working through state agencies, STEP provides financial assistance to small businesses that can be used to:

  • Participate in a foreign trade mission
  • Attend and exhibit at export trade shows
  • Sponsor overseas sale trips to international markets
  • Design international marketing campaigns
  • Other export initiatives determined to be appropriate by the Office of International Trade

Who do small businesses contact?
Small businesses that are interested in the STEP Program should contact their state organization. Contacts for state STEP directors can be found on the SBA website STEP contacts.

Can a small business apply to the SBA for funding under the STEP Program?
No, only state organizations are eligible to apply to the SBA for funding under the STEP Program.  States use the money funded by the Small Business Administration plus state funding to provide financial assistance directly to small businesses. 

How do the states receive funding from the STEP Program?
Each year, the SBA issues a Program Announcement inviting states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands to submit applications for an award used specifically for export development activities. The applications are evaluated using a merit-based review process consisting of three phases:

  • Threshold Review: applications are reviewed for completeness and adherence to application requirements
  • Tier I Review: applications are evaluated by a panel of experts from the federal international trade community and the Small Business Administration
  • Tier II Review: applications undergo budgetary analyses conducted by Office of International Trade staff

After completing this competitive process, the Small Business Administration awards grants to the states and those monies are then awarded to small businesses for export related initiatives.

How do I get started?
Scroll down to the bottom and click on your state.  Then call your local STEP Program representative.  They’re there to help!

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EXIM’s Blog postings are intended to highlight various facets of exporting, but the postings are not legal advice, and are not intended to summarize all legal requirements associated with exporting.