The Wharton Small Business Development Center (SBDC) is well known in the Delaware Valley for its support and guidance of the area’s small businesses and entrepreneurs. But its influence will soon be felt as far afield as Colombia and Panama, after the Wharton SBDC hosted a half-day information session about an upcoming trade mission.

The meeting brought together area businesses interested in building relationships and growing business in the two burgeoning Latin American markets, with the “wonderful folks who work [them] through the bureaucracy,” as Therese Flaherty, SBDC director put it. These guides, for instance, provided insight in how to tap into Pennsylvania Global Accessing Funding (GAP) from the World Trade Center to help fund a trip. Small to midsize Pennsylvania companies can use Pennsylvania GAP funds (up to $5,000 per year) to increase export sales and enter foreign markets through export promotion activities. This program is funded in part through a grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Mark Maguire, WG’80, a volunteer advisor with the Wharton Small Business Development Center, added his own practical advice regarding GAP: its grant money can be used to even set up a Spanish-language website—not a bad idea for a U.S. firm shopping for business and partners in Latin America.

Panama is the second largest free trade zone in the world and in 2011 ranked first for highest growth in Latin America with an 8 percent growth rate. Colombia’s economy has grown at 5 percent per annum for the past four years.

Representatives from the U.S. Commercial Service were also in attendance. Businesses interested in exploring opportunities in another country can tap into its “Gold Key” matching service, which leads to pre-screened appointments and one-on-one meetings with potential sales reps, distributors, licensees or joint venture partners.

The Pennsylvania trade mission will spend three days in each country from June 23 to 29. The “information tour” includes stops as well at SBDCs at Duquesne University, St. Francis University, Kutztown University and St. Vincent College. It represents a partnership among the Pennsylvania Small Business Development Centers and the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development’s (DCED) Center for Trade Development and the U.S. Commercial Service.

Interested businesses can also access information about the trade mission online—as well as register—at the Duquesne University SBDC website.