Top 10 Tips for Exporting to Europe

The European Union is the wealthiest consumer market in the world, add in the likes of Switzerland, Norway, Turkey and the CIS; and the argument for exporting to our nearest neighbours gets even more compelling.

As one of Europe’s most developed economies with best-in-class offerings in Agri, health, construction and ICT; the potential for Irish exporters to exploit the opportunity to reach a market of close to 750 million people is unquestioned.

One

While Europe is too big and diverse to treat as a single market, it is possible to use one country as a base to target near neighbours. For instance, while the EU offers barrier-free access to 28 countries, the European Free Trade Association brings Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland into the Single market.

Beyond the European Union, differing currencies, diplomatic relations, and levels of economic development mean that exporters would be well advised to consider developing European export markets on a country-by-country basis. However, it is worth bearing in mind that a presence in one country can act as a springboard to neighbours or countries with historic links. For instance, CRH opened its new business service centre in Hungary from which it manages its operations in Austria, Hungary and Slovakia.

Two

It goes without saying that research is vital before deciding upon a market. But when there are 47 countries to choose from offering widely different sectoral opportunities, it is doubly important. Look at headline economic figures such as GDP, growth projections, national and household debt, household income, demographics, etc.

Look at the political situation. Is the country stable, is there corruption, are there protected sectors? What is the situation for setting up an office are there laws that require local partnering for foreign businesses? It is also important to research culture and tradition – from a broad perspective and from a business point of view. This will give you an idea of the receptiveness and viability of a market as well as suggesting how long it could take before you can start selling. It will also tell you whether you should – or are permitted – to sell directly; or use a distributor or sales agent without setting up an office.

This is particularly important for less well-publicised countries such as those outside the EU, where there can be substantial variation. Enterprise Ireland has offices throughout Europe that can advise on the nuances of each market.

Three

Always consider how your company might be a particularly good fit in a particular business culture. For example, the Nordic markets are often early adopters of new technologies and comfortable partnering with early-stage companies and may therefore be suitable for a company at high potential start-up stage.

Four

A local presence is always advisable. While markets might be geographically close, scale cannot be achieved through regular visits. Establishing an in-country office with local staff or a strong partnership is usually the best approach. Your senior management team also need to be fully committed to your market and present as a much as possible.

Five

Have a plan for marketing your product taking into account the need for localisation of marketing collateral, website, social media channels etc. Although English is widely spoken in Europe, having your marketing and communications in the language relevant to your market will help you reach the widest possible market.

Six

Take into account geographic size. Large countries like Russia are best approached by developing a regional market to begin with and then rolling out further as you become more established.

Seven

Conversely, you may have the capacity to manage two new markets simultaneously. It is not uncommon for exporters to enter Benelux countries in whole or in part simultaneously – sometimes in conjunction with, or directed from, France or Germany.

Eight

Don’t forget about currency value, it affects your bottom line. The UK is not the only country susceptible to significant fluctuations in the value of their currency. Get advice on hedging, think hard about your pricing strategy and consider contractual arrangements with your in-market customers in which they share in any major adverse change to the euro value of your payment.

Nine

When entering a new market ensure you have budgeted to absorb the cost of establishing your presence. This can take some time, depending on the market. For example, Germany has slower decision-making times, while Switzerland, the Nordics or Benelux tend to conduct business more expeditiously.

Ten

Get legal advice. Whether in the EU or otherwise, every country has different legislation governing employment, contracts (sales, rental, buyer agreements etc.) company registration, tax liability, transport, etc. Levies and duties may apply for countries outside the EU which usually entails additional documentation.

Marina Donohoe is Enterprise Ireland Director for the UK and Northern Europe

This article originally appeared in the Sunday Business Post

Thought Leadership Interview: Why the right culture can increase your company’s survival odds

Charles O’Reilly, professor of organisational behaviour at Stanford University, says that for Irish SMEs, staying alive is all about having the right corporate culture.

In interview with Donal Nugent.

Here’s a worrying statistic for entrepreneurs and business leaders. Humans might have worked out how to live longer. But the organisations and businesses that we create are having ever-decreasing lifespans. “Some data suggests that about 50 years ago, the average life expectancy of companies in the Standard and Poor’s 500 was 90 years. Today, it’s 12 years,” says Charles O’Reilly, professor of organisational behaviour at Stanford University.

A frequent visitor to Ireland in recent years, O’Reilly has worked closely with Enterprise Ireland on a number of education programmes, and he believes that improving the survivability of Irish SMEs starts with getting company culture right.

“We collected data from 60 smaller companies working with Enterprise Ireland and looked at their revenue growth from 2010 to 2014,” O’Reilly explains. “What we found is that companies with strong, strategically aligned cultures are, in terms of revenue, growing at three times the rate of those that don’t have strong strategically aligned cultures.”

Rise and fall

The history of the technology sector is, of course, littered with stories of giants that stumbled from success to obsolescence through a few wrong turns and missed cues. The fate of those who refuse to see what is staring them in the face is no better exemplified than by the case of Kodak.

“In 1993, Kodak and its then rival Fujifilm were almost identical in terms of size,” O’Reilly says. “Fujifilm, however, could see its market was starting to go into decline and began to ask itself what its core capability was and how it could apply that elsewhere. The answer was surface chemistry, and that company is now a $23bn corporation active in healthcare and functional materials.

“For Kodak, even though it had developed the first digital camera, the idea that it would make money from anything other than film was anathema to it, and it is, today, a bankrupt firm that’s probably going to disappear in the next five years.”

The simple but stark lesson for every company, big or small, O’Reilly argues, is in the need to pay close attention to your business culture: unless it promotes adaptability, where you are actively preparing for future transitions and shifts, your business’s success is entirely contingent on the current technology or product curve it is following.

Creating the right business culture

So how can founders and CEOs embed survivability? O’Reilly has identified four key levers to creating the right business culture, which he says can help ensure companies adapt and flourish in the long term.

Charles O’Reilly

The four key levers to creating a culture of adaptability are:

1. Signalling from senior management: Senior managers have an important role in actively and consistently sending messages about what is really important to the business.

2. Getting people involved: When people are involved, when they are listened to, when their opinions are asked for, they have a sense of ownership over what they do.

3. Having very clear illustrations about what’s important to a company: “If you look at very strongly cultured companies, they are ‘vivid’. They are very good at using images to illustrate what their culture is,” O’Reilly explains.

4. Rewarding desired behaviour and recognising that this has far more to do with honouring employees than increasing financial remuneration: “I think we who teach in business schools sometimes over emphasise the importance of money,” O’Reilly explains. “We all want to be paid equitably, but if you look at why people leave a job, it is usually to do with a bad boss, or not being valued or not getting challenging work, so non-monetary incentives are exceedingly powerful. They require time and attention, but they don’t cost anything to implement and, when you show an employee that you honour people in the business for doing something extraordinary, that is a really strong signal of what’s important to the company.”

5. In all of this, fortunately, there is an upside to being small. “Because of their size, SMEs can pivot and adapt more easily than large companies, and changes can be implemented much more rapidly,” O’Reilly says. “But here’s the problem: once an organisation finds a product-market fit and begins to grow, what often happens is that management becomes much more concerned with scaling the business, operational details and infrastructure. They tend not to think about organisational culture at this point. But then, when the world begins to change, the very culture that has made them successful can become inertia and hold them hostage to the past.”

For any business confronting the intense pace of change of the tech sector, organisational ambidexterity is, he feels, not a “nice to have” but a core dimension of its strategy. “You’ve got to be successful in your mature business, whatever that is, and that’s all about incremental improvements, staying close to customers and driving cost out, but you also have to be able to explore into the future and look at where you will find new business streams.”

Get smart!

When is a bin not a bin? When it is also an advertising hoarding, a Wi-Fi hotspot and an environmental monitoring station. Welcome to the world of the smart city, where ICT is creating multipurpose infrastructure with inbuilt features, making it easier and cheaper to manage.

Smart cities have been defined as cities that aim to achieve high levels of sustainability, economic development and quality of life through investment in physical capital (infrastructure), human capital, social capital and ICT. A more hard-nosed way of looking at smart cities is in terms of the commercial opportunities they offer ICT product and service providers.

Nevertheless, technology, and the internet of things (IoT), in particular, does provide a means for improving the efficiency of our cities and urban spaces. Dublin City Council’s ‘smart bin’ initiative is a case in point. ‘Smart bins’ are solar-powered rubbish bins producing the energy required to power internal compactors that reduce the volume of rubbish. As a result, bins are emptied three times less often. An additional smart bit is that, when they are full, the bins send an alert to head office letting them know.

These types of bins were first trialled in Dun Laoghaire, using bins manufactured by Massachusetts-firm Bigbelly. However, a key Bigbelly component, the antennae, was provided by Taoglas, an Enniscorthy-based firm that is a world leader in antenna design and manufacture.

Taoglas produces a myriad of antennae because different methods of wireless communication are needed for different applications and locations – such is IoT. For example, Taoglas’s 5-in-1 Storm product, typically used on police and emergency vehicles, houses two LTE MIMO antennae, two Wi-Fi MIMO antennae and one GPS antenna. Not only do officers remain in radio communication with their dispatch, their dispatchers can view the live, or recorded, video feed from the vehicles’ onboard cameras and from the cameras worn on the officers’ person. HQ also has live access to data about the officers’ and vehicles’ performance. In the case of the officers, they can track heart rates and whether the officers are standing, seated or prone, and, in the case of the vehicles, they can see where they are located, how they are being driven and when they next need a service.

Another Irish company is involved in the technology behind some of these smart police vehicles. Dublin-based Davra Networks is a world leader in the development of IoT application enablement platforms, a platform-service that allows IoT developers to easily deploy and scale their applications.

Davra’s CEO Paul Glynn says IoT is about “people connecting things that they never connected before”. He explains that by networking assets, by whatever means, Wi-Fi, cellular, satellite or via a low-power WAN such as Sigfox, it becomes easier to manage those assets individually or as a whole, “to solve management headaches be it in a factory, a power supply or a smart city”.

An example of IoT everywhere is Wembley Park in London, a massive 85-acre urban regeneration project. As well as being billed as “the UK’s biggest buy-to-let building scheme”, Wembley Park is hailed as “the world’s best connected mini-city”, with Irish firm Magnet Networks, a specialist in FTTP (fibre-to-the-premises), providing homes and businesses with broadband connection speeds ranging from 100MB to 2GB.

Building contractors aren’t especially interested in FTTP until they hear that it can reduce their M&E (mechanical and electrical) cabling costs by up to 65%, says Magnet’s CEO Mark Kellett.

“Because you can run multiple services on the fibre, you don’t need copper cable for the phone, cable for the temperature and humidity controls, cable for the TV and CAT5 cable for PC connectivity. It also means you only need one satellite dish for the whole building – and only one satellite box.

We are learning from each phase of the project. For example, the builders spent too much money on connection points in the first set of apartments because students don’t want to plug their laptops and devices into the wall. As long as they have three-bar Wi-Fi, they are happy.”

Wembley Park is built around Wembley Stadium and Wembley Arena (now officially the SSE Arena), and it is also home to the London Designer Outlet (LDO), an 85-store shopping centre that Kellett describes as ‘Kildare Village on steroids.’ This is an example of a physical and economic investment to create a smart city environment, as the student residents have a source of weekend employment in the LDO. There is also part-time employment available when events are held in Wembley Stadium or the SSE Arena.

There is smart city ICT aplenty there too. “There is a number plate recognition system in the car park, so from the DVLA database, we know who each car belongs to and where each car owner lives,” says Kellett. “That has a security application but we can also make a good guess as to a visitor’s spending-power, based on their address. And, if a visitor logs on to our free Wi-Fi, we will have some access to their browsing history, so we can direct them, via their smartphones, towards special offers they might be interested in. We can also follow them as they travel through the London Designer Outlet or past the shops on the way to the Wembley Stadium and see where they stop and what they are looking at. There are a number of Irish companies who are very good at tracking how people travel through a retail space, and we are working with them on that.”

“The Internet of Things is very like what we used to call ‘M2M’ or machine to-machine communication, with one small difference,” says Glynn. “With M2M, data is siloed; with IoT, you are using multiple sources of data. A good example is in fleet management where with, say, a refrigerated truck, you have one solution, such as Fleetmatics providing GPS information and telematics. You have another solution, GreenRoad, providing data on driver behaviour. Another solution, Blue Tree, is monitoring the refrigeration in the trailer, and all the pallets in the trailer are tracked using RFID. In the world of M2M, each of these solutions works separately. With IoT, you put a network on the vehicle, using a Cisco or a Dell router, and you collect the data from all those sources, and you use them together to work more intelligently.

“Also, you don’t need to send all the data into the cloud on the network all of the time. For instance, the onboard computers fitted on most car engines since 1996 produce more than 25,000 data points every minute. You don’t want to be sending all that over the network continuously. You need the system to send the data when it needs to be sent. We are involved with a connected light rail system in San Diego and a heavy rail system in New Jersey. Vibration levels are one of the things that need to be monitored: if the vibrations go beyond a certain threshold, an alert is sent to the operator. But the threshold varies according to the ambient temperature: the colder it is, the lower the vibration threshold before an alert is sent.”

In the smart city sphere, Glynn sees IoT opportunities galore, especially in the areas of transport, energy and security.

“One of the big issues is who is going to pay for it and, secondly, will you be able to get various parties to share their data,” he says. “In some countries, you can force people to share their data, in other places you can’t.” Because Dubai’s smart city initiative is being driven by the country’s ruler, it is on track to have the world’s smartest city by 2020 (including connected police cars enabled by Davra Networks).”

“Cities in Europe are a bit behind that,” says Glynn, but he points to some very European initiatives that are already bearing fruit. “In Croatia, they have fitted all their manholes with sensors, so they know when they are being lifted when an authorised person isn’t present. As a result, they have become very good at tackling the growing problem of copper cable theft.”

“There are great opportunities for those who will develop IoT apps and it is something that is becoming easier to do. A developer can use our ConnecThing AEP platform for free with up to three devices to help them get their ideas beyond the proof-of-concept stage. Once an app has been tried and tested, it might be sold by our 65,000 reseller and system integrator partners. For example, we have a revenue share with the developer of a smart healthcare app that is sold per hospital bed and is now doing very well in the United States.”

Brendan Carroll, CEO at EpiSensor, a Corkbased specialist in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT) space, says that the sector is a particularly good one for smaller companies.

“Traditionally, when a company was having an IT upgrade or having a LAN installed, all the work would be done by a single large supplier, an integrator like Siemens or Honeywell or Schneider Electric. In IoT, a lot of the solutions are made up of layers of different technologies from different companies, so that creates huge opportunities.”

Enterprise Ireland development adviser Robert Bushnell believes that the IoT will become so ubiquitous, people will stop using the term.

“There was a time when people talked about digital cameras and digital music but no one uses the term digital anymore,” he says.

Glynn agrees, “It’s like e-commerce: it’s everywhere now and nobody uses that term.”

Winning business in Brazil

Both time and commitment are key to success in winning business in Brazil where the tax system is complicated and protectionist. Advice from Enterprise Ireland’s Latin America team can help smooth the path to success.

To learn more about Enterprise Ireland supports and for further information on doing business in Brazil click here

Growing your business globally

Emer Conroy from Lotusworks, Brendan Noud from LearnUpon and Tony Treacy from Axiom Europe discuss growing their businesses profitably with Singapore, US, UK and Australia on the target list

To learn more about Enterprise Ireland supports and for further information on our international office network click here.

Market Access: Breaking into India

Finding the right partners will help ensure that the process of breaking into the India market goes smoothly. VU2VU Networks have been working closely with Enterprise Ireland’s India office and are on the cusp of a new beginning in a tough market.

To learn more about Enterprise Ireland supports and for further information on doing business in India click here