How EI supports SMEs to develop language capabilities

Speaking the language of your customer is critical to success. As the former West German chancellor Willy Brandt famously said, “If I am selling to you, I speak your language. If I am buying, dann müssen Sie Deutsch sprechen (then you must speak German).”

European markets offer extraordinary opportunities for Irish businesses – Irish exports to EU countries were €8.4 billion in 2021 – but some companies can find it daunting to consider operating in a language other than English.

Fortunately, there are significant supports in place for Irish companies to tackle and improve their language capabilities so they can protect and grow their business through diversifying their export base.

With the right language skills in-house or coming from external sources, your company can conduct superior market research, understand local culture and connect with buyers and other local partners in a deeper and more valuable way.

There are three key areas businesses should address when they want to expand into non-English-speaking countries

  1. market research in the language of the market you’re considering, so you fully get at the specific nuances of that market as well as access to important information such as regulatory requirements or market-specific reports
  2. proper localisation of your product/service including search engine optimisation (SEO) and technical language
  3. communicating with local partners, such as buyers, customers and distributors.

Enterprise Ireland offers its client companies guidance, knowledge and expertise around all of these priority pillars to ensure language capability is part of your export strategy when entering new markets.

We also offer funding and other supports aimed at increasing a company’s in-house language capability and enabling companies to make the most of new translation and communication technology. Discover some of the key supports on offer below.

Initial support from Enterprise Ireland

Enterprise Ireland has offices in nine EU countries and, in each of them, our multilingual staff have strong relationships in the markets they cover. They can support with market intelligence and local introductions and advise on other available supports.

SMEs and HPSUs with at least five employees can make use of the Market Discovery Fund. It’s designed to help cover internal and external costs associated with researching new markets and developing viable and sustainable market entry strategies. A company can apply to the fund more than once as long as each application relates to a different market.

While sales and marketing costs are not covered by this funding, it can be used for a multitude of other costs including consultancy costs, overseas travel and subsistence costs, or the translation of collateral for attending a trade show in the new market, for example.

Another invaluable support for companies seeking to expand into European markets is the programme. This programme offers ambitious companies €30,000 in salary support or 50% of annual salary (whichever is lower) for each 24-month graduate placement. A company can hire three graduates at any one time under the programme.

When a company can show a clear requirement for a graduate with language proficiency, however, the available support rises to €42,000 or 70% of the salary (whichever is lower) for each graduate. Again, a maximum of three graduates can be hired through the programme at any one time.

While those hired under GradStart cannot work in a direct sales or marketing role, they can work in any other area of the business. Enterprise Ireland clients have found this support invaluable when it comes to market research, for example.


Rapid need for content localisation

Succeeding in any new market relies in part on making strong use of digital channels. In non-English speaking markets, for example, it’s vital to have expertly localised SEO to ensure traffic is organically directed to your website and other online channels.

The Digital Marketing Capability support offered by Enterprise Ireland typically helps to fund 8-12 month strategic projects aimed at enhancing a company’s use of digital channels for business development.

The work can include:

  • Carrying out a strategic review of existing channels and the development of your digital marketing strategy
  • Understanding international best practices, along with effective digital marketing tools and strategies
  • Embedding digital marketing practices and skills in your company by developing the capabilities of senior management.


The funding covers 50% of the cost of an external consultant and 50% of the salary cost for an internal digital champion, although funding caps apply.

Any SMEs that could benefit at this point of their market expansion from retaining an external consultant with language and market expertise should consider applying for the Strategic Consultancy Grant. This funding offers 80% funding for short projects involving three to 10 days’ of an external consultant’s time or 50% funding for longer projects.

SMEs and HPSUs with more than five employees may also find they can avail of the Evolve Strategic Planning grant, especially when it comes to costs such as researching market opportunities or localising packaging and sales or marketing collateral.

Designed to support businesses who need to develop a strategic response to address business disruption, the Evolve grant offers up to €5,000 to help cover the costs associated of a short project, such as scenario planning for markets over the next 2-3 years with a consultant.

Following best practices for localisation

While it’s always possible to hire consultants and interpreters when operating in a non-English speaking country, fully committing to a market usually involves hiring staff who are native speakers or at least fluent in the market language.

Again, the GradStart funding is useful here, as is the Key Manager funding. The latter offers SMEs with more than 10 employees (and, in some cases, HPSUs) partial funding towards the cost of recruiting a senior manager with skills vital to their future growth, which can include a language capability.

The person who is hired must contribute to “significant and measurable improvements in company productivity” for the company to qualify for funding.

The roles for which this funding is available include positions such as Chief Financial Officer (CFO), and Chief Technical Officer (CTO).

Talk to your Enterprise Ireland Development Adviser to understand more about the supports in place to help you improve language capabilities in your business.


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