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Online Startup: Colorado Business Express

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The state this week launched Colorado Business Express, an online business registration service where budding business owners can file the state documents required to open up shop.

John D. Conley, executive director of the Statewide Internet Portal Authority, which overlooks the official website for Colorado, said five new businesses jumped on the service the first day it went live during a soft launch before Monday's formal start.

"People found it without us doing any type of advertising, which to us shows the demand is there," Conley said. "Especially in this economy, people are creating their own businesses, starting their own businesses" but "not being able to afford a business-filing attorney, (they) are trying to get through it on their own."

Conley said it took nine to twelve months to launch the service, which reversed the approach to online filings offered by three state agencies -- the Secretary of State, the Department of Revenue and the Department of Labor and Employment -- from an agency perspective, where forms served the agency's purpose of data entry, to the perspective of a user.

"That's why we went with the wizard approach," he said, "where the small business owner for the first time only has to focus on answering the questions. They don't have to understand the regulatory language or the red tape, if you will."

I tried the wizard briefly and found it takes you nicely to the places where you want to go, including the Internal Revenue Service for a tax ID if you need one. Once you move off the state pages, however, following things like IRS instructions remain as traditionally confusing as ever.

But state documentation remains easy. You have to have an already established business or trade name to follow the wizards, but if you don't have that, the Express will take you to the Secretary of State's website to get one for $1. The site's functionality so far allows you to apply for a state sales-tax license, an employee wage withholding account and an unemployment insurance account, and may, in the future, integrate other functions as well, Conley said.

You may have read in the Denver Post about a shake up in the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade that is intended to sharpen the state's focus on retaining and attracting jobs in Colorado.

Small-business hiring has always been a critical driver of state employment, so the Colorado Business Express, if it paves a way for faster business startups, serves that agenda well. Check it out.