New Web Apps & Services for Businesses

Technologies that simplify life for small business owners were on display this past week at Finovate Spring, a tradeshow that showcases all manner of finance-related innovations. Here are a few of the most promising.

Accept Credit Card Payments Without Hardware

Square and its competitors have empowered small businesses to accept credit and debit cards using hardware and tablet apps, but Flint Mobile makes things even easier by dispensing with the hardware. Instead, its iPhone app scans a MasterCard or Visa credit card number (but no other info), and submits it along with customer-provided verification information and signature to Flint's payment gateway partner.

Funds are typically deposited to the merchant's bank account within two business days (minus a transaction fee of 1.95 percent plus 20 cents for debit cards, or 2.95 percent plus 20 cents for credit cards). Additionally, Flint generates customizable e-mail receipts with buttons for posting about your business to social networking sites. You can sign up now for an invite-only beta.

Easier Travel Expense Reports, Part 1

Earlier this year, Concur acquired TripIt, a service that creates reasonably coherent itineraries from disparate email messages and other documents that you forward to a single email address. The move strengthened Concur's ability to integrate business travel planning with the associated expense tracking.

At Finovate, Concur gave attendees a sneak preview of its soon-to-be-available SmartExpense smartphone app, which promises to make creating and submitting travel-related expense reports a snap.

Easier Travel Expense Reports, Part 2

Expensify, which helped pioneer the use of the web and mobile devices for creating business expense reports, has introduced a Trips feature that will compete directly with Concur's TripIt-powered service.

To use it, you must enable Expensify's SmartScan feature (for analyzing receipts) and then forward travel confirmation emails from the address you use for your Expensify account to Expensify will generate an itinerary you can access from within Expensify's mobile app and produce an expense report for the entire trip when you're through.

Find (or Provide) Business Funding Close to Home

SoMoLend joins a growing group of peer-to-peer lending services, such as Kabbage, that provide businesses alternatives to traditional funding sources (e.g. venture capitalists or banks). As with other such services, businesses register and create a profile that potential lenders (including friends, family members, and social network connections) can browse for opportunities to realize a greater return on their investment than they'd get through traditional channels.

SoMoLend also uses mapping technology to show lenders potential borrowers in their own community--people they can meet (and size up) face to face. In beta now in Ohio, the service plans to go national in 2013.

It's Not What You Tap, It's How You Tap It

Want to see what may be the future of identity fraud prevention? BehavioSec uses what it calls behaviometrics to augment the findings of traditional approaches (e.g. user IDs and passwords). Instead of looking only at what data you enter, it assesses the way you enter it--the rhythm and speed of your keyboard taps. The technology is transparent to users and requires no special hardware, rendering it less expensive than traditional biometric schemes that tend to rely on various readers or scanners.

BehavioSec is working on offerings for standard keyboards, too; but you can try its mobile technology (for touch-enabled smartphone and tablet displays) by downloading the company's demo iOS apps from the iTunes app store.

Know Your Customers/Business Partners

Credit reporting firm Experian is expanding its business intelligence line with BusinessIQ Express, a new offering specifically designed for smaller businesses who'd like help evaluating a prospective customer or vendor's trust- and/or credit-worthiness, but don't need (or can't afford) the company's existing services.

For $99 a month or $750 a year, BusinessIQ Express not only gives you access to data showing how successful a business has been in meeting its obligations, but to tools that can help you make decisions based on that data.

A Low-Overhead Loyalty Program for Mom & Pops

Major chain stores reward regular customers with loyalty programs that neighborhood merchants can't afford. Swipely, however, lets small businesses offer some of the same benefits (and reap the rewards) using only data from the payment cards their customers already use.

Where it's available (Boston, New York, Providence and San Francisco, with the District of Columbia expected soon), consumers can enroll a major credit card (American Express, Discover, Mastercard, and Visa) and gain access to a list of participating merchants who offer rebates and other rewards delivered through the cards. In return, the merchants gain access to analytics and automated tools (e.g., email a coupon offer to customers whose purchases have reached a defined range) that can help them recapture and retain customers.

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