Businesses Like Me

Sarah, a business owner of a small graphic design firm in Savannah, Georgia, faces a dilemma. Should she apply for a small business women-owned certification from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA)?

Getting certified could take several months and add yet another bureaucratic headache to Sarah’s already busy day. But what if the certification opened up a new $20 million market of government design contracts? What if it were a $200 million market? Or $2 billion?

Team Treasury—a group of Harvard students in a course about innovation in government—has been working with the U.S. Treasury to identify users of the Department’s federal spending data website, Now, we are taking our insights from dozens of interviews of prospective users and developing rough product prototypes to try and meet the needs we identified.

Our research uncovered that small businesses often rely on basic government websites and data instead of more sophisticated (but expensive) commercial data services.

Our prototype idea: Businesses Like Me.

Businesses Like Me is a simple web portal that analyzes spending data from the perspective of small businesses. It helps business owners answer and understand differences in spending along multiple categories:

  • If Sarah wanted to know whether certification is “worth it”, she could go to the Businesses Like Me to search for similar businesses that have certifications.
  • A catering provider thinking of opening shop in a new city could see the Department of Education spending differences on food across geographies for businesses her size.
  • A steel manufacturer, a vendor to the Department of Defense, could view the differences in spending on specific sub-products.

Narrowing in on Prototype Features

With these questions in mind, we designed a prototype that aims to deliver three main product features:

  • A clear user interface and simple workflow to help small business owners quickly discover the specific information they need.
  • The ability to refine and filter contracts based on small business certifications, such as women, veteran, and minority-owned designations.
  • A basic business intelligence dashboard that includes the Federal spending market size for a product or service, distribution of past purchases, and subcontracting trends by vendor.

Our prototype experience begins with the user answering five short questions that indicate the industry, sector, certification, size and location.

The tool would access Treasury’s spending data API and look for contracts awarded to businesses with similar characteristics. After answering the questions, the screen displays the business analytics dashboard.

Bringing the Prototype to Users

After developing interactive wireframes this week, we will spend next week testing them out during live interviews with real users. We anticipate that feedback from these tests will inform the next iterations our prototype.

Will Long, Maya Perl, Anna Ponting, Cindy Yang, Ni Xu