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Ambition Benelux: Breaking into Benelux

Choosing the right international opportunities and how to address them are key success factors in every successful export strategy. At Enterprise Ireland’s most recent Ambition Benelux event in Athlone, Irish exporters shared the reasoning behind their move to this lucrative market that offers access to the rest of the Eurozone.

For Azpiral, a Limerick firm running real-time cloud-based customer loyalty engagement software, it was the unavoidable consequences of Brexit that focused the minds of the management team as they moved to ensure regulatory compliance with data stored in the UK.

Sales director Kevin Nolan told delegates: “We made a decision once the Brexit vote was taken that we had to make efforts on two fronts. Firstly, we had to move over data out of the UK, so it took a two-year project to bring it on to Microsoft Azure. Secondly, to move into the European market, in 2018 we started doing research into the forecourt and convenience market across Europe. We identified the main groups across multiple countries with the hope that, if we could win some of those, it would open up the market internationally.

We targeted Benelux specifically because we had integrations in place with the till systems of forecourt systems of that region.” says Nolan.

Nolan reported that they had just concluded a deal that will see their cloud-based solution positioned in 350 AVIA service stations in the Netherlands, representing 10% of the market.

AVIA is an international leader in the European forecourt sector, with over 3,000 stations across 15 European countries. Nolan says he is “hopeful that being the first choice in loyalty software for international brands like Circle K, Gulf Oil, Spar and AVIA will present opportunities for Azpiral to continue to expand internationally.”

Project management firm Aspira, who specialises in software services and digital transformation, took a more analytical route into the region. Having served the Irish arms of many multinational clients in Cork and Dublin, it heatmapped the concentration of prospective clients and settled on Amsterdam. Both the Netherlands and Belgium have high concentrations of multinational HQs meaning key decision makers are within arm’s reach.

Russell Moore, Aspira’s Resourcing Manager, said having face-to-face contact was vital: “We quickly saw that by having a local office near to where your clients were meant that you could expand quite rapidly.  It’s much better than doing FaceTime or Skype. So we weren’t afraid of looking at a new market. As time has gone on, the whole agile concept of the project management package is very interesting to Dutch clients who are very engaged with digital transformation.

Localising for Benelux

speakers at Ambition Benelux

“We rebranded lots of projects that we had already done with this in mind, such as the Central Bank, Coillte and Aer Lingus, into the digital transformation journey that had been taken by these clients, and we’ve found that is resonating really well with the Dutch market in particular.”

For Cork’s Over-C, who deploys an integrated digital platform providing transparency for all functions relating to the upkeep of high-footfall, scaling meant having to go beyond the Irish border. Their product suits high-footfall, high-risk public facilities, such as shopping centres, stadia and transit hubs, and ultimately there is finite amount of all of these here in Ireland. Over-C leveraged existing links with Dutch-owned client ScotRail when targeting the region.

James Murphy, Head of Partnerships, told delegates:

“I see the Netherlands as a gateway to the rest of Europe. The Netherlands are early software adopters, and Germany looks at the Netherlands and what works there, so it’s good preparation for new markets.” 

Over-C’s innovative software uses artificial intelligence, data and analytics to provide industry professionals with key insights for time-critical decision-making. It has been operating in the Dutch market for two years, with customers including Facilicom, Trigion, Koopgoot, Plaza Nieuwegein Shopping Centre, and Wereldhave. Over-C is working with KPN to identify further opportunities through their customer base.


Take the step into Benelux

Events such as Ambition Benelux are one element of Enterprise Ireland’s Step into the Eurozone campaign, which supports Irish companies at each stage of their market discovery journey. Built around five steps, the programme assists with everything from scoping, assessing and validating new market opportunities, to acquiring funding for activities such as recruiting graduates with relevant language skills.

With Nolan reporting that it took Azpiral 12 months to finalise its big deal in the Netherlands, these supports are hugely valuable for helping to sustain the investment of management time and direct costs behind successful market entry.

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