A San Francisco-based online portal for the infrastructure industry plans to open an Asian office early next year to serve the region's emerging economies. InfrastructureWorld.com sees its experienced advisory board - including a former United States Secretary of State - opening doors in the region. According to chairman and chief executive Cordell Hull, the Asian headquarters is likely to be in Hong Kong. The company, which began operations on January 1, acts as an online intermediary in the utilities, transportation, construction and telecommunications industries. 'There are very few complete sites existing that actually handle entire construction projects from bid to ribbon-cutting,' Mr Hull said. The company recently received US$10 million from the International Finance Corporation, part of the World Bank Group. It has 18 per cent of the portal. Mr Hull expects government and commercial sponsors, international banks, insurance firms, developers and equipment suppliers to use the portal to build major infrastructure projects. The company is backed by US construction giant Bechtel Group, which holds 30 per cent. InfrastructureWorld.com's heavyweight board of directors include former US Secretary of State George Schultz, former Citicorp chief executive Walter Wriston, Jeff Cunningham, former chief executive of the Internet Media Group at CMGI, and H.J. Haynes, chairman of the board of counsellors of the Bechtel Group. All have individual stakes in the company. Mr Hull is a former president of American Express' Merchant Banking Operation and spent more than 25 years at Bechtel. GartnerGroup senior analyst Lane Leskela said: 'Building B2B [business-to-business] operations is a hot topic in many industries right now and the construction world is one of them. There is lots of activity right now. 'I know that the Hong Kong construction association, for example, is working on something. But, as with most B2B ventures, you have to get people from that industry with a good grasp of the intricacies of the market, the culture and so on to even make it through the door.' InfrastructureWorld.com, which connects sponsors and developers of projects to suppliers and builders, would offer 'massive advantages in the form of cost-savings and efficiency'. 'As far as I know, there is no equivalent to InfrastructureWorld.com in Hong Kong, so far,' Mr Leskela said. ISteelAsia - a vertical portal serving the steel industry - was the closest. According to Mr Hull, the company is still in the process of completing the portal's secure platform and back-end. The company's approach was to work from the government level and then drive it down. He admitted he was aware of the language and cultural barriers of doing business in Asia. 'We will be hiring locals in every market we enter. The fact that many members on the board of directors are big political or business figures will open doors for us. More importantly, people will recognise immediately that we are not just another dotcom, that we are a serious business,' Mr Hull said. 'We are not in it for a quick IPO. We want to build a successful business. I am sure that eventually we will list but that is not on the radar right now.'