When Susan Owens, manager, Travel & Meeting Services, Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals Inc., hit the send button on her electronic request for proposal to the Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers recently, you can imagine a bit of confetti popping out of the top of the computers at StarCite, the Philadelphia-based company with a platform of online products and services (including e-RFPs) that help to manage the meeting-planning process and control meeting spend. Owens' RFP had hit a milestone: It was the millionth to go through the StarCite system.

It was not only the number that gave the dot-com something to celebrate, but it was also the pace at which it got there. In 2004, after six years in business, StarCite marked its 500,000th e-RFP. Just 18 months later, that figure has doubled. The company is reporting 150,000 RFPs through the system in the first quarter of 2006, or more than 16,000 unique meetings. (On average, clients send out nine e-RFPs per meeting, according to company president and CEO Michael Boult.)

StarCite is not alone in documenting the acceleration of the meeting industry's business-to-business online marketplace. Ed Tromczynski, president of the supplier division at Santa Clara, Calif. — based OnVantage, another player with online tools for strategic meeting management, reports more than 50 percent growth in the number of unique meetings sourced with an OnVantage e-RFP in 2005 compared to 2004. OnVantage clients sent out e-RFPs for 50,000 unique meetings in 2005, versus about 32,000 in 2004. That translates to more than 250,000 RFPs, says Tromczynski, calculating OnVantage's average of five to six RFPs per meeting.

Both executives say that they are just getting started. Tromczynski estimates that only 15 percent of all meetings are using electronic RFPs. Boult agrees with that statistic in terms of U.S. meetings, but notes that the figure is much lower for international meetings, a market in which StarCite is making a significant investment, he says.

Boult predicts it will take only another 18 months to double StarCite's total RFPs to 2 million, and he sees the growth in business coming not only from new customers and the international market, but also from existing companies expanding their use of the e-RFP enterprisewide.

“When global companies get serious about this space,” he says, “e-RFPs win.”