By Cromwell Schubarth

It's getting harder to start a business, but some entrepreneurs are finding success despite the slowing economy.

That's the message expected to come out this morning during Sen. John F. Kerry's first field hearing as chairman of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee.

Entrepreneurial experts and the founders of local technology companies will testify in two panels at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Cambridge.

"There are a lot of people with good technology ideas who are looking for a hand in how to get started," said one of the scheduled speakers, Jill Card, president and founder of Ibex Process Technology, a nine-employee Lowell maker of artificial intelligence control software.

"I'm optimistic, but the well has never been so dry for start-up funding as it is right now," she said Friday.

Also scheduled to speak are Rock Steven Gnatovich, president of Spotfire Inc. in Somerville; Patrick Von Bargen, executive director of the National Commission on Entrepreneurship; Inc. magazine editor George Gendron; and John F. Hodgman, president of the Massachusetts Technology Development Corp.

Later in the day, Kerry will speak at Anthony's Pier 4 in Boston to an annual awards lunch for the federal minority business development agency of the Department of Commerce.

Being honored as New England's minority contractor of the year is Frank Thomas, of Boston's Thomas Construction Co.; as Federal prime contractor of the year, Foster-Wheeler Environmental Corp., of Boston; and the Brockton 21st Century Economic Development Corp. for its neighborhood work.

Also getting special awards at the lunch will be Gail Snowden, an executive vice president at FleetBoston; Kevin Cohee, chairman and chief executive of the Boston Bank of Commerce; Fletcher H. Wiley, president of PRWT Services; the Rev. Charles Stith, former ambassador to Tanzania; John B. Cruz Construction Co. Inc.; and a posthumous award will be made to the late U.S. Rep. Joseph Moakley.