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The self-proclaimed "world's largest business finance search engine" might be among the world's homeliest sites. But it appears to be a solid way to connect businesses and lenders. Search a database of thousands of financial-service companies, specifying financing type and amount of money needed. Membership is free to businesses in search of capital; the site charges finance professionals an annual fee.
An interesting tutorial, Entrepreneurship 101, covers a broad range of topics, from cutting red tape to enhancing cash flow. The final lesson is: "You Got It Off the Ground and Flying, Now How Do You Safely Land It?" It's a good package. But excellent reporting on small business -- especially the case studies and trend pieces -- is what makes this site worth bookmarking.
Don't overlook government resources. The U.S. Small Business Administration is a good place to start. You'll find primers on financing, regulations, patents, taxes and insurance. Click on "Outside Resources" for access to more than 3,000 other sites of interest to small business. The site also offers interactive courses on writing a business plan, preparing for Y2K and raising capital. The courses look interesting, but I can't recommend them. After spending five minutes downloading and installing the required ScriptActive plug-in, I discovered the course page refused to function on either major browser.
This state agency's modest site has details on grants, loans and technical assistance available to Minnesota businesses.
Need a confidence boost? Click on "Business Startups" for inspirational profiles of entrepreneurs who made it big against all odds. The top stories this month: "Hot entrepreneurs under 30" and "If this online retailer can do it, you can too." If stories of unalloyed success depress you, check out the succinct product reviews (Techtalk, Wise Buys, Inventions) or topical features (Starting Out, Money Matters, Guts). The site has a robust set of tools for finding money or learning more about an industry. The forums seem fairly active and spam-free. There's live chat, as well, but how many entrepreneurs have time for that?
-- Ben Welter is a startribune.com producer. His e-mail address is email@example.com.