The Coca-Cola Company today announced that it has signed an agreement in principle to become a Founding Partner of HispanB2B, a Hispanic-owned Internet portal that links Hispanic-owned suppliers of goods and services with Fortune 500 companies.

During its initial launch in first quarter 2001, HispanB2B, an affiliate of MeritSpan Holdings Company, will feature Hispanic-owned suppliers on its e-business portal. Following this launch phase, MeritSpan will leverage the HispanB2B business model to establish additional supplier networks to include African-American business owners, women-owned businesses and other affinity groups. These new networks will benefit from HispanB2B's technology and its national buyer networks, and will operate as stand-alone markets. Through the agreement with HispanB2B, Coca-Cola also will become a member of these new e-markets as they are established.

The agreement with HispanB2B underscores The Coca-Cola Company's commitment to the Minority Empowerment and Entrepreneurship Program. As a Founding Partner of HispanB2B, Coca-Cola will be among the first companies to participate in the Hispanic-owned start-up company's e-marketplace, a business-to-business portal dedicated to fostering the economic expansion of minority businesses.

"The decision to participate in HispanB2B was an obvious choice for The Coca-Cola Company," said Jeff Dunn, president, Coca-Cola North America. "Not only will The Coca-Cola Company be better equipped to meet its procurement objectives by having access to high quality goods and services from minority-owned businesses, but also, this deal will help minority business owners become part of the new economy."

Minority- and women-owned suppliers will be identified, recruited, and qualified to join HispanB2B in the e-marketplace. The e-marketplace will feature a balanced presence of buyers and suppliers who will be transacting e-business in an efficient and secure environment. HispanB2B also will create a mentoring program for minority business owners who become part of the online marketplace.

"Our partnership with Coca-Cola creates an opportunity for Hispanic and other minority- and women-owned businesses to succeed by enabling these small business owners to compete for Coca-Cola procurement contracts online," said Alex Suarez, founder and chairman of HispanB2B. "Through their investment in HispanB2B, Coca-Cola will be an early pioneer in our effort to empower these small businesses to exchange goods and services using the tools and techniques of the new economy."

In May 2000, Coca-Cola announced a comprehensive Empowerment and Entrepreneurship Program detailing the company's commitment to contribute $1 billion toward strengthening local economies and minority communities. An extension of the "think local, act local" strategy, this program includes increased spending with minority- and women-owned businesses; increased investments in local economies through its Urban Customer Partner program; increased involvement with minority financial institutions; and increased community contributions.

About HispanB2B

Founded in 1999, HispanB2B is an empowering, impartial market maker that aggregates the Fortune 500 and the U.S.'s fastest growing Hispanic-owned businesses. As a multi-vertical digital marketplace, HispanB2B provides new economy solutions for both buyers and suppliers via next generation technology. Powered by Clarus eMarket and Microsoft's Enterprise 2000 Platform, HispanB2B combines breakthrough features to enable and empower our members with unprecedented speed, efficiency and flexibility.

About MeritSpan

MeritSpan Holdings serves as a foundation for building all-inclusive, interoperable and open digital marketplaces for affinity groups. MeritSpan will launch other supplier diversity marketplaces that will benefit from the technology and business model currently used by HispanB2B.