Dell Canada is embarking on a project to make the small business market more competitive – literally.

Dell Canada, along with partner The Royal Bank of Canada, Tuesday said it is holding a contest for small businesses where the payoff is $25,000 in Dell goods and services and a chance to swap enterprise strategy with the company’s founder Michael Dell.

The contest is open to Canadian companies employing less than 100 people. Entrants are asked to submit written entries that describe how technology is helping them improve customer service and offer two case studies that testify to that fact.

“The award is designed and in place to honour small businesses that instill a spirit of innovation and apply IT to improve customer experience and further enhance their business models,” said Greg Davis, president and general manager of Dell Canada.

“Small businesses have always been an incubator for innovation,” he said, adding that the computer giant was itself a small business 20 years ago.

“Many small businesses use their limited resources wisely and in a way to prioritize their growth and establish strong customer service bonds that last generations and generations. Some newer small businesses actually have built business models that are totally IT-driven.”

Competition entries will be judged by Davis, as well as David Gair, senior manager of Dell’s home and small business marketing; John Warrillow, a consultant who advises enterprises on SMB strategies; and Louise Mitchell, vice-president of business clients at RBC.

Canadian small businesses have, to a degree, struggled with technology implementations, said Catherine Swift, president and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), based in Toronto.

Some have suffered through implementations gone awry, while others were burnt by the tech sector meltdown in the late 1990s. As a result, “small business has, in some quarters . . . been criticized for not leaping into the technological fray,” she said.

But that reputation may be unfair, she said, adding that Dell and RBC’s contest may help bring some of the small business success stories to the surface.

“I hope that they publicize it quite widely,” she said. “The more the merrier. It’s not the first initiative of its type we’ve ever seen, but we certainly would never want to discourage anybody in this industry.”

Swift noted that a lot of large businesses like Dell are recognizing the potential of the small businesses in Canada. She said that this contest is an example of the way enterprises are reaching out to a sector that, according to the CFIB, accounts for roughly half the gross domestic product in Canada.

Davis said Dell has recognized the technology buying power of small businesses. In the past year the company has the addressed this market by teaming up with EMC to offer storage products to SMBs and partnered with Oracle for a small business database.

Dell’s contest was offered to American businesses last year and won by a 54-person architectural firm based in Greenville, S.C., based on its e-business expertise. The Canadian version of the competition won’t be available in Quebec due to restrictions in that province, said Gair. “We hope in future to be able to do so.”

The deadline for entries is Oct. 28. Dell expects to announce a winner sometime in November.

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