Between her mail carrier route, visiting the grandchildren, breeding Peruvian Paso horses, and running a small trucking business on the side, Joyce Bennett has little free time.

That’s why was a godsend. Bennett, 55, a resident of Dixon, a small town in north central Illinois, was looking for help in buying nationwide cellular service for her seven-truck fleet. Logging onto, she registered and filled out a purchase request, not expecting much.

“You get so used to doing stuff out there and never hearing back from everybody,” explains Bennett, who swaps her postal-worker hat for that of a small-business owner every afternoon at 2 o’clock. But the next morning, several bids from cellular-phone vendors were waiting in her email box. “I was pretty surprised,” recalls Bennett, who was then able to quickly compare prices and coverage areas and choose the provider that best suited her needs.

Each day an estimated 7 million small-business owners in the United States face a similar time crunch. Triple that number if you include home-based businesses, according to the Department of Commerce. “The small-business owner’s most valuable currency is time,” says CEO Bernard Louvat, who co-founded the company with his Harvard Business School classmate Paolo Consiglio. “Whatever they can do to save that time, they can grow their business.”

Louvat, who earlier launched Office Depot in Europe, noticed that while companies like Commerce One and Ariba were creating efficient, intranet-based buying networks for Fortune 1,000 companies, the small-business sector was largely underserved. That observation and the wild success of auction site eBay led him to apply the online bidding concept to the lucrative business-to-business sector. Business-to-business
Forrester Research projects that B-to-B ecommerce will surge past $1 trillion annually by 2011.

Based in Santa Monica, Calif., took shape as a digital yenta to match small-business buyers with the vendors of services and products critical to their commercial success, from phone systems and computer hardware to patent advice. “What they are really doing is aggregating demands,” says GartnerGroup ecommerce analyst Leah Knight. “They make it more efficient for suppliers to reach out to smaller buyers.”

Because of that, vendors have flocked to like kids to a batch of freshly baked cookies. Within four months of its June launch, had already enticed 6,000 providers of products and services to climb aboard.