Former quarterback Fran Tarkenton is trying to make a financial score on the Internet.
The one-time Minnesota Vikings star has developed a World Wide Web site that connects small businesses with a comprehensive range of interactive financial services.
Mr. Tarkenton, based in Atlanta, said he has cultivated more than two dozen relationships with corporations, including Eastern Mortgage Services Inc., Federal Express Corp., Intuit Inc., and Netscape Communications Corp.
He said the new venture, the Fran Tarkenton Small Business Network, has received "financial commitments" for membership from about 150,000 subscribers in its first two weeks of operation.
"Within six to eight months, we will be the largest small-business network of any kind in the world," Mr. Tarkenton said.
With the banking industry increasingly viewing small-business as a priority growth area, Mr. Tarkenton said, he is in negotiations with several institutions to increase the range of credit options on his network. He did not name the banks he is talking with.
His venture is far from the first to target small businesses over the emerging medium for electronic commerce.
But it has a celebrity name going for it.
Corporate Finance Network, for one, provides hypertext links to a multitude of accounting services, venture capital firms, and other providers of business services.
Another, Industry.net, is an on-line catalogue of wholesale goods and services. It recently hired PNC Bank Corp. to provide clearing and settlement services for Internet-initiated purchases.
"There are quite a few of these things out there," said David Bochnovic, executive vice president at Phoenix-Hecht, a corporate banking consulting firm based in Research Triangle Park, N.C.
Mr. Bochnovic, who recently wrote "Treasury Manager's Guide to the Internet,' said most content on the World Wide Web is marketing related. However, some sites can help corporate productivity. Businesses use them to find potential trading partners, do competitive comparisons, and conduct research after hours.
He said Mr. Tarkenton's service could be useful to small-business owners who typically lack time to investigate all available options.
Mr. Tarkenton's "got name recognition," Mr. Bochnovic said. "That's probably the biggest twist."
Mr. Tarkenton has owned or participated in several business ventures in the 20 years since he led the Vikings in Super Bowl XI.
In 1986 he started Knowledgeware, a software firm later sold to Sterling Software Inc. for $77 million in stock.
Discussing his new venture, which he financed himself, Mr. Tarkenton professed a desire to become "an advocate" for the owners of the 25 million U.S. small businesses. He said they generate more than half the nation's revenues and were responsible for three-fourths of economic growth in the last 10 years, yet they "have access to only 9% of the invested capital."
"Fran wants to build a coalition of small-business owners" that could "become a powerful voice," said Gene Devine, senior vice president at Eastern Mortgage, Trevose, Pa. "There is no real coalition that has one voice for them."
Mr. Devine, a senior official in Eastern Mortgage's subprime lending unit, said he hopes to increase lending to small-business customers. The 18-month-old subprime unit has already booked more than $200 million in loans.
The company, a unit of Dauphin Deposit Corp. that operates in 32 states, will establish reciprocal links between its Web site and Mr. Tarkenton's.
The ex-footballer is charging $99 for annual membership. He also sells software to help small businesses maintain Web sites on his network.