International Trade Assistance

Notice: The SBA has updated the STEP program to reflect additional allowances for digital/virtual and eCommerce activities.

The State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) is a financial assistance program to assist Vermont businesses in strengthening their export strategy to increase export sales. STEP funds have been awarded to Vermont by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and is administered by the Vermont Department of Economic Development. Funding assistance is available to eligible Vermont businesses in the form of reimbursement grants to support entry into foreign markets or expand international export activity through trade shows, trade missions, market research, and export education.

The objective of this program is to increase the overall number of small business exporters and increase their export sales with a focus on relationship development, export planning, and job creation.

contact your program manager to get started! 

The reality that most in-person STEP activities have been canceled or altered due to Covid-19 has resulted in new guidance from the SBA increasing the amounts that can be reimbursed for virtual and digital export-related activities. As appropriate, we encourage eligible small businesses to consider incorporating these allowable and reimbursable activities into your pandemic recovery strategies (items in bold reflect changes):

Eligible Expenses

Eligible Vermont businesses may apply to receive reimbursements for up to 75 percent of pre-approved, allowable, export-related expenses, up to a maximum of $20,000 per calendar year for up to four (4) of the following activities (a separate application must be submitted for each activity):

  • Registration fees, booth space, and booth build-out at export trade shows (Up to $5,000). Fees and registrations associated with virtual export trade shows are also allowed at the cap of $5,000;

  • Design of digital marketing media (Up to $5,000) Increased to a cap of $6,000;

    • Includes development of virtual trade show exhibits such as demonstration videos (audio and video production), product photography, digital content development, digital product catalogs;

    • Includes design and translation of digital brochures, advertisements in industry-appropriate media, including audio and video;

    • Includes placement of digital advertisements in industry-appropriate media, including social media channels and digital publications, targeted to international markets;

    • Does not include printing

  • Website translation into a foreign language, search engine optimization (SEO), and localization services (Up to $3,000) Increased to a cap of $10,000;

    • Ecommerce and associated website maintenance or monitoring fees are allowable but fees for these projects are not to extend after the current granting period ending September 29, 2021. These may include:

      • Design and development of website, with an international focus;

      • Oversight and maintenance/monitoring fees for search engine optimization;

      • Online market listing fees;

      • Ecommerce platform fees, including hosting and/or maintenance fees;

      • Expenses to set up websites to accept international payments

    • Consider leveraging a STEP partnership with IBT Online to optimize your ecommerce, localized website and online marketing efforts (search engine and social media marketing) to grow your international audience. IBT Online offers special pricing for STEP clients to get the most out of the funds available for these digital upgrades (see caps in above list). You may also choose to work with another local service provider for these activities, however, IBT Online’s resources are available to all in a research capacity.

  • Participation in foreign market sales trips or virtual sales meetings (Up to $5,000);

  • Participation in foreign trade missions or virtual trade missions (Up to $5,000). For the purposes of STEP, a foreign trade mission is defined as travel to a foreign country to explore or expand international business opportunities. Participants are expected to yield tangible outcomes such as seeking out potential buyers and increasing export sales volume;

  • Fees for shipping sample product (Up to $2,000) Increased to a cap of $4,000;

  • Participation in ExporTech or other export trade trainings including virtual trainings (Up to $6,000);

  • Cost of compliance testing an existing product for entry into an export market (Up to $3,000) Increased to a cap of $6,000;

  • Export market research tool subscription (Up to $1,000) Increased to a cap of $2,000;

  • One-on-one consultations on export compliance issues and strategic export growth planning/market expansion. Initial consultations are available free of charge and, if needed, costs of additional in-depth consulting may be offset via the use of a STEP grant (up to $5,000). Consultations may provide the following benefits:

    • An outside assessment of your export business that will identify gaps or opportunities;

    • Input on international growth strategy and plans;

    • Guidance on how to gather international market intelligence;

    • Advice on how to respond to specific challenges or pain points;

    • Navigation/connection to additional expert resources and other export support programs;

    • Assistance with navigating required international compliance standards.

Application and Reimbursement Process

Vermont businesses must meet criteria set forth by the SBA defining Eligible Small Business Concerns (ESBCs) to be eligible for STEP funding. ESBCs may apply to receive reimbursements for eligible expenditures by completing a two-part application. Prior to starting the activity, please complete PART A: Reimbursement Grant Application and submit all supporting documents:

  • SBA Self-Representation as an Eligible Small Business Concern form;

  • Current W-9 signed within the last six (6) months;

  • Certificate of Insurance certifying a minimum of $1,000,000 in commercial general liability, $500,000 in automobile liability, workers compensation in compliance with Vermont state laws, and indicating State of Vermont as the certificate holder.

Upon completion of the trade activity, a second form is required, PART B: Data Collection Instrument, along with scanned copies of paid invoices/receipts and an itemized worksheet indicating costs in U.S. Dollars at the time expenses were incurred.

Many questions about the STEP process may be answered in the STEP Program Guidelines. Please read through this document before starting your application.


                                                                 “Funded in part through a grant with the US Small Business Administration”

VT Step Program Guidelines

PART B: Data Collection Instrument

PART B: Data Collection Instrument

Contact Us

Tim Tierney, Director of International Trade

Hilary DelRoss, State Trade Expansion Program Manager

One National Life Drive
Deane C. Davis Building, 6th Floor
Montpelier, VT 05620-0501

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