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Export Journey: Step 1 – Why Export?

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In a post-Covid world access to international markets, buyers, distributors and information is now at the fingertips of Irish SMEs thanks to increased digitalisation.

When looking towards new markets, it is important to consider the potential benefits of exporting for your company such as;

1. Diversification of market and reduced vunerability

A well considered diversification plan can minimise a dependency on the domestic market and the potential exposure to domestic downturn.

2. Increased revenue and scale

Exporting opens channels to exponentially expand the home market and identify new markets to take advantage of globally. A larger market base delivers economies of scale, enabling you to maximise your resources.

3. Improved profitability

Your ongoing domestic operation should cover business-as-usual fixed costs, either directly or via other types of business financing, which should, in turn, facilitate a faster growth in your export profits.

4. Best practice and knowledge

Accessing global markets will provide additional benefits to an exporter, aside from increased revenues such as new ways of doing business, increased awareness of global best practice, cultural and international competitiveness, that could also bring benefits to your market offering in Ireland.

5. Domestic competitiveness

Considering your company’s export potential will increase its resilience against potential competition within the domestic market.

 

 

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Export Journey: Step 2 – Assess & Validate

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Before beginning your export journey you must clearly identify your target market.  You may have preferences based on previous experience, understanding of the language or culture or simply some connection with the market, though a good starting point it’s not enough of a reason to export to this market.

Market Research will form the backbone of your export strategy as you begin to validate your plans.

The key elements for consideration are:

  • What makes your product unique
  • Who are your competitors in your selected research market?
  • Who are the buyers in that market?
  • How does your product compare in terms of pricing?
  • How is the product sold in that market?
  • What are the local regulations, certification for selling your product and can you currently comply?
  • A clear understanding as to why you have selected this market as the potential first market.

What supports are available?

If your business is at an early development stage the Local Enterprise Office has the supports to help you plan, start and grow

If you are are already supported by Enterprise Ireland you can contact your Development Advisor here.

The Market Research Centre provides access to world class research databases to help client companies make better, more informed business decisions. Contact the Market Research Centre here

Enterprise Ireland hosts events to assist companies’ growth plans – See our events calendar for details.

Our Market pages and Going Global guides provide expert insights and contact details for our overseas offices.

Learn how our Exporter Development team can support your growth.

 

 

 

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Export Journey: Step 3 – Positioning Strategy

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Your positioning strategy should set out what you will do to achieve a favourable perception in your new export market.

Typically companies will try to achieve the same brand positioning regardless of the market. A coherent positioning strategy can be hugely advantageous, so it’s important when reviewing the export potential of your products/goods or services to consider the following:

1. Customer profiles

  • What is your current USP and will this translate to your new foreign export markets ?
  • Do you understand your domestic customer profile? E.g. age profile, socio-economic grouping etc.
  • Are there other significant demographic patterns to your product or service’s usage?
  • Have you considered the need to modify your product/service to facilitate differences in language, culture and business environments?
  • How do you plan to deliver your services to foreign markets ? In person, via a local partner or using digital resources?

2. Market Pricing and Value Propostion

  • Consideration whether any necessary changes to make your product/service more appealing to foreign markets and customers?
  • If you’re exporting services, what makes them unique within global markets?
  • Have you benchmarked your services in a global context? Would they be considered to be world-class and stand up to stronger scrutiny?
  • Have you considered the cost implications of servicing overseas markets? Including FX rates and fluctuations?
  • Does your product have a shelf life and will this be impacted by time in transit?
  • Will your packaging have the same impact in a foreign market or can it be easily modified to satisfy new demands?
  • Are there any climatic or geographic factors that could affect the uptake of your product or service in other markets?

3. Route to Market

  • Do you need special export licensing or documentation to export? i.e. technical or regulatory requirements localised to the market?
  • Are there considerations for the safe transportation of your product to global markets ? i.e. specialized containers or packaging materials?
  • Would transportation costs make competitive pricing a problem?
  • How efficiently does your target market process incoming shipments?

4. Capacity to support

  • In the event that your domestic/export demand increases beyond current projections, will you still be able to look after both markets?
  • Will you be able to serve both your existing domestic customers and any new foreign clients?

 

5. Further considerations

  • Do you require a local presence or representation?
  • Will your products/service require local professional support or can this be done digitally?
  • Will after-sales service be required ? Can it be easily sourced locally or do you have to provide it? Does you have the resources to provide it?
  • Are there legal / IP implications to consider when entering global markets?

Once your positioning strategy is in development, it’s time to consider how to develop your export strategy and access your target market.

 

Take the next step in the Export Journey

 

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Export Journey: Step 4 – Developing your Export Strategy

The next step is your export plan. You may have ideas but you need to clearly communicate them in writing so that your whole team is clear on their responsibilities. Having a plan laid out makes it easier to spot pitfalls, gaps and even additional opportunities!

The export plan is also key in seeking supports in term of financing or grants.  Don’t overcomplicate it, keep it clear and simple.

The key elements of a successful export plan include:

1. The Vision

  • What you are going to do. How you are going to do it. What your expected outcome is.

2. Human Resources

  • Have you the staff, external support and expertise? Have you skills within your team to manage language and cultural differences?

3. Financial Resources

  • Budget, Sales targets and Pricing – Consider the additional costs involved in selling into the overseas market. Establish a target price for the end user, taking into consideration currency, payment terms, freight and carriage charges, import duties and taxes, commission to partners and competitors’ pricing.

4. Target Market

  • Why you have selected this market; who your buyers are.

5. Your Product

  • Your USP and how it translates internationally. Are there external factors which could impact production or sales?

6. Market Entry

  • Sales channels; marketing plan; regulations, language and local laws.

7. Monitoring and Developing the market

  • Are you meeting sales targets?

8. What’s next?

  • How do you plan to grow and scale?

Access the Market Entry Page

 

 

 

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Export Journey: Step 5 – Market Entry

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Your next priority is for the execution of your company’s vision within new export markets. Key to this will be preparing the company for this change and subsequent increased demand from and servicing of new export markets.

Consideration for a successful market entry should include;

1.Identify and allocate adequate resources such as:

    • Financial resources i.e. cash required to sufficiently support overseas exports
    • Additional equipment or fixed assets needed to increase volume or backup global sales
    • People, including staff, suppliers or other valuable relationships in Ireland or overseas

2. Defining where your first sales will come from

Will your customers be a distributor which imports in larger quantities, or an overseas agenct or representative acting on your behalf or will it be a separate trading company of your own business?

3. Developing your lead generation strategy

Supports will need to be assigned to generate business leads. Will they be predominantly offline, online or a hybrid?

Offline: fairs, events, conferences, network meetings or

Online: website, social media, blogs etc.

You will need to qualify and validate the leads, managing them through a Customer Relationship Management (CMS) system such as Salesforce.

4. Marketing and communications

Implementing a successful marketing and communication plan is vital for sustained sales in export markets.

When developing a plan, it is important not to do a ‘copy and paste’ of the same marketing strategy from your domestic market as these are likely completely disparate territories. While it is logical that you should retain your company values and purpose, you will need to adapt your marketing and communications strategy to your new export market

5. Implementing a sales process

By implementing a sales process, you are creating a set of logical, repeatable steps that your sales team goes through to bring a potential buyer from an early stage of awareness to closing the sale. There are various stages that need to be considered in developing an effective sales process, such as;

a) How will your company cultivate your sales leads?

b) What preparation will you commit to in order to be ready to capture an overseas sale?

c) What will be your sales teams approach to a prospective buyer?

d) How will you adequately present or pitch your sales in an overseas market?

e) Is your team setup to deal with buyer objections or queries?

f) Have you experience in closing a sale in an overseas market?

g) What follow-up work will be done post buyer presentation?

6. Relationship building

Relationship building is a key factor in developing sustained sales in export markets. Any company considering to expand globally is undoubtedly looking for a return on their initial investment, and companies looking for better business returns are strongly encouraged to place an emphasis on relationship building.

Companies can quite often focus on the transactional, revenue generation portion before they consider relationship building. However, as is the case in much of the world, relationships based on mutual respect and trust outplay singular transactions. Relationships need to be worked on and require different approaches for different markets.

Take the next step in the Export Journey

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Export Journey: Step 6 – Scale

Scale title and background image of modern cityYou are now successfully exporting to your first market. Now begin to build on this success and grow your exports.

You will now have built up a good relationship with the overseas market team and keeping up to date on buyer trends and external factors impacting these trends will enable you to stay competitive.

Factors to consider in your plans to scale exports:

1. Resources

Do you have the necessary resources both in terms of staff and finance to meet the demand of a new market?

2. Capacity

Do you have the manufacturing, packaging, logistics, linguistic capacity?

3. Environmental

Have you considered your carbon footprint; requirements of buyers?

4. Sustainable Growth

How will this impact your current financial standing? Will it strengthen or dilute your position in the market?

5. Adjacent Markets

Is there potential in the adjacent markets where buying patterns, pricing and local regulations may be similar?

 

How can Enterprise Ireland support your growth?

If you are are already supported by Enterprise Ireland you can contact your Development Advisor here.

The Market Research Centre provides access to world class research databases to help client companies make better, more informed business decisions. Contact the Market Research Centre here

Enterprise Ireland hosts events to assist companies’ growth plans – See our events calendar for details.

Our Market pages and Going Global guides provide expert insights and contact details for our overseas offices.

Learn how our Exporter Development team can support your growth.

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Using market intelligence to inform your export plan

The saying that ‘knowledge is power’ is certainly true of successful exporting. Companies must understand their customers’ requirements, cultural considerations, market trends and what competitors in the market are doing, in order to succeed.

Insights gained from high-quality market research are essential for good business decisions for companies with the ambition to grow, export and, indeed, survive. While successful products and services are built on sound market research, a continual process of keeping up-to-date with business intelligence is required, which can be time-consuming and costly.

 

Market Research Centre

That is one reason Enterprise Ireland’s Market Research Centre is such a valuable resource. It is the largest repository of business intelligence in Ireland and contains thousands of world-class market research insights, available to Enterprise Ireland supported companies.

Reports include company, sector, market and country information, which help businesses to explore opportunities and compete in international markets. We use databases from blue-chip information providers such as GartnerFrost & Sullivan, Mintel and others, which provide authoritative, verified information that is independent and reliable. Some of these reports cost tens of thousands of euro individually, so the value of accessing the service is immense.

 

Using market intelligence to assess new markets

The Market Research Centre is staffed by eight information specialists who help clients locate the most appropriate sources of knowledge for their requirements. The specialists can track down niche market intelligence that is not available through internet research and can also facilitate access to industry analysts to provide bespoke briefings that deep-dive into subject areas.

While the UK and European markets remain vitally important for exporters, increasingly diversification into more distant markets is a strategic option. Critical to all such business decisions is access to authoritative market research.

 

Using insights to make an impact

An example of how the centre helps companies to explore opportunities in overseas markets is workforce travel company Roomex. Over the last two years, the company has targeted the UK and Germany and is now looking at the huge potential of the US market. Information specialists helped the company gain valuable insights by providing access to global company, country, market and sector data which helped the Roomex to analyse their target customer and competitor base.

Enterprise Ireland’s research hub offers access to extensive predictive research on future trends, which is invaluable for companies interested in innovation. Knowledge of what might impact a market next provides an opportunity to develop new products or solutions. There are huge opportunities arising from disruptive technologies, such as driver-less cars, but also risks to companies which are not looking ahead

Growing your business

Companies which are serious about exporting, growing and future-proofing their business should put continuous research at the heart of their strategy. If your company is considering expanding into new markets the Market Research Centre’s extensive resources and expertise should be your first port of call.

Contact the Market Research Centre today.

fintech

Mexican market ripe for Irish fintech firms seeking to expand

With an underbanked population and skyrocketing use of mobile tech, Mexico offers an open door to growth for Irish financial technology firms seeking new opportunities in the global market. This is a market with a real need for innovative financial services.

“Mexico is in the early stages of a financial technology (or fintech) revolution, with start-ups focusing particularly on flexible, low-cost, accessible services,” says Sara Hill, SVP Southern US and Mexico at Enterprise Ireland. “It is the Latin American hub for the sector and local start-ups flourishing in the wake of local pioneers such as Kubo, Financiero and Conekta, all peer-to-peer payments firms which first emerged in 2011.”

Partly driven by the same social distancing regulations and decrease in the use of cash seen everywhere because of the pandemic, use of mobile banking is soaring in Mexico, up 113 per cent between 2018 and 2020.

 

Lending and payments lead the way

Across the board, the financial services market in the country remains underserved, but local consumers and businesses are keen to see new services in this area and new financial companies don’t have to compete with legacy institutions as much as they might have to elsewhere.

“Only 47% of the population in Mexico has a bank account,” explains Sara. “That’s why we’re seeing lending and payments as the top two areas in which fintech start-ups are operating. There continues to be huge demand and extensive room for growth in this area.”

Start-ups are also active in Mexico in categories such as blockchain, crowdfunding, cryptocurrencies, digital banking, enterprise financial management, personal financial management, remittances and foreign exchange, scoring, identity and fraud, and wealth management.

“In the Austin, Texas office of Enterprise Ireland, we not only support Irish businesses seeking to break into nine southern states of the US, but also those who want to enter the Mexican market,” says Sara. “We help them evaluate the opportunity there for their business and also offer in-market support such as introductions to buyers, partners and decision-makers.”

 

Irish businesses soaring in Mexico

Fintech businesses in Ireland considering this step will be in good company, with Irish tech firms already thriving in Mexico including Workhuman, Adaptive Mobile and Daon.

Other Irish businesses also active in Mexico include Ornua (Kerrygold’s parent company), mobile recharge provider Ding, forklift firm Combilift, food packaging manufacturer Fispak, GM Steel Fabricators, and pharmaceutical engineering firm Prodieco. Overall in 2019, Irish exports to Mexico were worth €83m, up 36 per cent on the previous year.

 

A growing market for fintech

When it comes to fintech, Mexico is currently ranked 30th in the Global Fintech Ranking, with Brazil ranking 19. Mexico has over twice as many adults that use digital banking, however, compared with Brazil, Colombia and Argentina.

The Mexican fintech is worth 68.4 billion pesos (around €2.8 billion), with about 4.7 million users out of a total population of 127.6 million. For context, the global fintech market was valued at US$127.66 billion (€105.9 billion) in 2018, with expected growth of 24.8% by the end of 2022.

 

Understanding market challenges

Rapidly developing markets like this one undoubtedly present challenges to potential new entrants. With a troubled history of corruption in the past, some lingering distrust of financial institutions remains, but the introduction of a stringent fintech law in 2018 has helped.

 

“This law regulates which financial entities are legally allowed to operate and offer financial services in Mexico,” explains Sara. “So you have to make sure that your business is going to meet the criteria. The law was introduced to protect users and consumers, to prevent money laundering and to help foster an environment of trust.”

Geography can also be a challenge for companies expanding in Mexico, with many rural areas having no banks or ATMs, meaning people are less likely to have bank accounts. While this presents a great opportunity for digital payments, internet and mobile service can be poor in some locations. As a result, fintech firms tend to be based in urban areas, with more than half of the 700 or so start-ups in the sector based in Mexico City.

Other factors inhibiting financial inclusion in Mexico include income, education and even gender. That gender gap should close quickly, however, as men and women are equally likely to use mobile tech and social media.

 

Building lasting relationships

When it comes to exporting, understanding the nuance of any new market is vital. Firms must remember to localise products and messaging properly, for example, as Mexican Spanish is different to that spoken in Spain.

On-the-ground agents or partners are also crucial when it comes to navigating the local business environment and building customer relationships.

“People in Mexico want to do business with those they know and trust,” says Sara. “You’ll need to make multiple visits to build relationships or to have a strong partner on the ground who can represent your business.”

For Irish fintech firms seeking to expand overseas, Mexico undoubtedly presents a real opportunity to build a user base quickly in a rapidly developing and dynamic market.

Get advice and insight into local market conditions and practices in Enterprise Ireland’s Exporting to Mexico guide.

 

Webinar Series: Free Trade Agreements

EU Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with Canada, Japan, Mexico and South Korea enable Ireland to increase its trade, GDP and national income. The FTAs allow Irish exporters to explore new opportunities as market access increases and they benefit from competitive advantage in doing business in these countries.

Join Enterprise Ireland as it hosts a webinar series on Free Trade Agreements and doing business in these four export markets: Canada, Japan, Mexico and South Korea.

Each webinar will be opened by Robert Troy TD, Minister of State Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment with responsibility for Trade Promotion. The webinars feature contributions from market experts and guest speakers from Irish companies who will share their experiences on doing business in specific markets.

If you’re considering exporting to these markets, or scaling your existing export business, these webinars are for you.

Click on the links below to register for upcoming webinars.

Doing Business in Japan

Thursday, 17 June 2021, 9am BST

The EU Japan Economic Partnership Agreement provides a positive backdrop to Ireland Japan trading relations. This webinar will explore the experiences of key Irish business interests in Japan, and will outline the knowledge, networks and access supports available to capitalise on what is an increasingly important market for ambitious Irish exporters.

For the full agenda and to register, click here.

 

Doing Business in Mexico

Tuesday, 22 June 2021, 3pm BST

With duty-free trade on most goods and a simplification of the customs procedures, the latest 2018 EU-Mexico trade agreement has improved the already positive and prosperous relationship between Ireland and Mexico. This webinar features two market experts who will highlight opportunities and explain business culture and processes, as well as providing practical guidance for market entry.

For the full agenda and to register, click here.

 

Doing Business in South Korea

Thursday, 24 June 2021, 9am BST

The EU-South Korea FTA can provide enhanced business opportunities for Irish businesses. This webinar brings together experts on the topic to provide knowledge and insights on key elements of the FTA, and to enable Irish businesses to make use of the FTA to its fullest in doing business in South Korea.

For the full agenda and to register, click here.

Doing Business in Canada


Tuesday, 25 May 2021, 3pm BST

Attendees will learn more about the opportunities available in the Greater Montreal region, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and Europe, and what incentives are available to Irish companies looking to expand in North America.

Watch back on-demand, available here.

Supporting Regional Development Critical To Future Jobs Growth

 

Resilience is a word we became used to in 2020 and it is an apt term to describe how Irish business responded to the dual challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic and the end of the Brexit transition period.

For thousands of businesses across Ireland, and their staff, it has been a tough, challenging year marked by disruption and uncertainty. But what has been remarkable is how Irish businesses have responded to the impact of Covid-19 and Brexit.

At Enterprise Ireland we work closely with the Irish manufacturing, export and internationally traded services sector.  We invest in established companies and start-ups, we assist companies to begin exporting or expand into new markets and we back research and development projects creating future jobs.

This week we launched our annual review for 2020.  The good news is that the companies we are proud to support employ more than 220,000 in Ireland.  Despite the challenges faced in last year, nearly 16,500 new jobs were created, closely mirroring the 2019 outturn.

However, job losses were significantly higher than in previous years, resulting in a net reduction of 872 jobs across the companies we support.

There is no sugar coating the fact that it was a tough year for business.  However, behind these statistics are individual stories of companies taking brave decisions to change their business model, reimagine their product offering and find new ways of doing business and connecting with customers to trade through the impact of Covid-19 and Brexit.

Enterprise Ireland has worked with these companies throughout the year to ensure viable companies have the liquidity, supports and advice they need to trade, and importantly, to sustain jobs.

Enterprise Ireland supported companies have a key role in the Irish economy.  65% of employment is outside the Dublin region and these indigenous Irish companies, many of which are world leaders in their field, are critical to delivering balanced regional economic development.

Powering the Regions is Enterprise Ireland’s strategy for regional development.  It outlines specific plans for each region in the country, drawing on their existing enterprise base, their connections with third level institutions and their unique potential for growth.

The strategy is backed significant funding.  This time last year more than €40m was allocated, in a competitive call, to 26 projects fostering regional entrepreneurship and job creation.

These included the Future Mobility Campus Ireland, based in Clare, which explores the potential of autonomous, connected and electric vehicles, UCDNova’s Ag Tech innovation centre in Kildare and the Clermont Hub in Wicklow which focuses on content creation and draws on the region’s established film and audio/visual track record.  The 26 projects were supported under the Regional Enterprise Development Fund, which has seen €100m invested in similar projects since 2017.

Given the potential impact of Brexit, particularly in the Border region, 11 similar projects designed to cluster expertise and innovation were supported with €17m in support under the Border Enterprise Development Fund in 2020.

These were strategic initiatives, closely linked to government regional policy, with a medium to long-term focus on supporting regional enterprise.

However, due to Covid-19, Enterprise Ireland moved last year to provide more agile interventions to regional businesses assist them to reset and recover.

Ensuring that viable companies had the access to finance was an important necessity.  Through the government-backed ‘Sustaining Enterprise Scheme’ Enterprise Ireland allocated €124m last year to support more than 400 companies employing more than 10,000 people.  The majority of this funding went to regionally based companies.

Similarly, €8.2m in funding for 95 enterprise centres, which are critical to the start-up ecosystem and future job growth regionally, was made available in September.

Retail business across Ireland also benefitted from the Online Retail Scheme which saw 330 retailers allocated €11.8m in funding to enhance their online offering, reach new customers and increase sales.

Through a mix of strategic funding aimed at long-term enterprise development and more agile funding supports Enterprise Ireland has helped to sustain jobs throughout Ireland in 2020.  We’ve also supported those sectors, such as cleantech, construction and life sciences which continued to grow and create jobs last year.

The pandemic will have lasting effects including how we work and where we work.  Many of these long-term changes can complement strong local and regional economies.  A key element of the Powering The Regions strategy was the potential of remote working and co-working hubs that Enterprise Ireland is committed to developing with our partners.  That potential has been accelerated by the changing work patterns evidenced in the past year. Now, more than ever, having a strategic approach to enterprise development is vital, and Enterprise Ireland looks forward to the role it can play as we recover and build for the future.

By Mark Christal, Manager, Regions and Entrepreneurship at Enterprise Ireland.

New African Dawn: Launch of the Continental Free Trade Agreement

A new year usually brings with it hope, optimism and new resolutions. The first two weeks of 2021 have however been fraught with the on-going pandemic, Britain’s exit from the EU and increased protectionism and populism around the globe. In marked contrast with this tone, one continent is pushing forward with hope, optimism and new resolutions.

The first of January 2021 saw the launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). This milestone agreement strives for greater trade cooperation on the continent. The aim is to bring together 1.3 billion people in a $3.4-trillion economic bloc that will be the largest free trade area since the establishment of the World Trade Organization. This agreement comes into force, with support from 54 of the 55 countries recognised by the African Union (Eritrea being the sole exception) is a hugely positive move.

The Agreement establishing the AfCFTA was signed in March 2018 and of the 54 Member States of the African Union that have signed, 30 countries have deposited their instruments of ratification with the Chairperson of the African Union Commission.

The main objectives of the AfCFTA are to create a single market for goods and services, facilitate the movement of persons, promote industrial development and sustainable and inclusive socio-economic growth, and resolve the issue of multiple memberships, in accordance with the African Union’s Agenda 2063. The agreement lays a solid foundation for the establishment of a Continental Common Market.

AfCFTA presents a significant opportunity to boost intra-regional trade as well as increase Africa’s negotiating position on the international stage. Intra-African trade has always been relatively low. In 2019, only 15% of Africa’s $560-billion worth of imports came from the continent – compare this with a figure of 68% in the European Union (UNCTAD).

In addition, many African nations have struggled to develop better-enabling environments for attracting investment and it should follow that this agreement will help to make the continent an increasingly attractive location for foreign companies seeking to penetrate its huge market potential.

This landmark agreement is off the starting block but there is much to be negotiated to reach the desired goal of #OneAfricanMarket.

Under AfCFTA trading, with an aim to eliminate export tariffs on 97% of goods traded on the continent, tariffs on various commodities where rules of origin have been agreed will be drastically reduced and businesses of all sizes will have access to a much bigger market than they used to before. Non-tariff barriers (NTBs) to trade will also be addressed and a mechanism for reporting of NTBs has been put in place (www.tradebarriers.africa).

In parallel to the AfCFTA, the African Union has also introduced the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons.

Though it will be years before the AfCFTA is fully implemented, the significant steps that have been taken to get the agreement to this point should not be underestimated, particularly in the current difficult global environment. Increasing prosperity on the African continent will ensure that it continues to be a continent of great interest to Irish exporters.

Enterprise Ireland has been assisting Irish companies to navigate the Sub-Saharan African market through our office in Johannesburg, along with an established and growing network of industry specialists across the continent. Contact us to learn more about the opportunities for your business in this growing export destination.

Nicola Kelly, Senior Market Advisor, Middle East, Africa & India

PIXAPP – Shedding light on PIC packaging

“PIXAPP is more than just a project; like all Horizon support I look at it as seed funding to grow your activity.”

Professor Peter O’Brien, Director of PIXAPP Photonics Packaging Pilot Line Horizon 2020 open call project

Overview:

  • Tyndall National Institute in Cork is leading an international consortium that is establishing ‘best in class’ photonic integrated circuit (PIC) packaging technologies
  • The PIXAPP project is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme
  • The European Commission has recognised PIXAPP as a flagship pilot manufacturing capability in Europe.

Photonics is the future. In devices ranging from hand-held cardiovascular monitors to self-drive cars, photonic integrated circuits (PICs) are revolutionising technology, enabling significantly higher capacity and speed of data transmission.

Its huge potential to address socio-economic challenges in areas such as communications, healthcare and security, has led the European Commission to invest heavily in programmes to advance PIC technologies. But with most developments focusing on the PIC chips, the challenge now relates to packaging, that is, connecting the chips to the real world though optical fibres, micro-optics and electronic control devices.

To address the challenge, a €15.5m project, involving 18 partners and led by the Tyndall National Institute in Cork, has established the world’s first open access PIC assembly and packaging manufacturing line, PIXAPP.

“The assembly and packaging challenges are considerable and it’s hugely expensive for manufacturers. PIXAPP provides a single point of contact, the Gateway, at Tyndall, through which businesses can access expertise in industrial and research organisations across Europe to translate their requirements into the best packaging solution. It’s a major step forward to enable the conversion of R&D results into innovative products,” explains Professor Peter O’Brien, co-ordinator of the Horizon 2020-funded PIXAPP pilot line.

The importance of sustainability 

When PIXAPP started in 2016, the ability to package PICs was dispersed across several European companies and institutions, each of which could only do a few steps in the process.

“Our aim was to make a diversified, distributed pilot line, which meant coming up with a common language of design, materials and equipment standards that could seamlessly move across different countries.” says O’Brien.

With PIXAPP due to end in October 2021, the issue of sustainability is key to ensuring progress in the area of PIC packaging continues.

“One of the key things we had to show in our Horizon 2020 proposal was a sustainability plan. We can’t just walk away after four years. We’re now engaged with over 120 companies around the world and many of them are gearing up to do the whole packaging process themselves, working with the technology standards we’ve developed.

“Ultimately, that’s what success looks like for us, where we can step back and industry takes on the high volume packaging work. There are still risks involved for companies but we can help reduce those by sharing or advising on equipment and we can train their engineers, which is an important part of what we’re doing.”

O’Brien’s team has also secured funding from the Disruptive Technology Innovation Fund, which will help with regional sustainability.

“When we got the DTIF funding the Commission was delighted because that’s the kind of regional investment they want to see,” says O’Brien.

Insights for Horizon 2020 success 

Applying for Horizon 2020 support can be daunting but O’Brien has extensive experience and offers some insights.

The key to a successful proposal is addressing the call requirements, in terms of scientific excellence, impact from project results including dissemination and structure of the workplan. It is also important to ensure the proposal reads as one document, rather than a large number of small documents complied by partners into a single proposal. Ideally, the coordinator should write the full proposal, taking input from all partners. This will ensure the proposal has one voice, making it easy for reviewers to read, understand and enjoy.

 “Enterprise Ireland gave us support to write the proposal and it’s important to use their expertise as well,” says O’Brien.

The right partners are also central to success.

“You need to have partners that you trust and who trust you, so you have a shared vision, and you need to work with them well in advance; don’t form consortia based on a call. Our funding success is is high, and we like to work with the familiar partners but it’s also exciting to work with new partners who can bring new technologies and insights. Spending time out of the lab meeting partners, including new partners is important. Visits to Brussels to are also important to stay ahead of upcoming calls and as a central location or HQ to meet partners and future collaborators.”

Tyndall’ photonics packaging group is currently involved in 15 European projects and has recently participated in €19m project for a new Photonics Innovation Hub called Photon Hub Europe.

O’Brien also feels strongly that projects should not be seen in isolation.

“All our projects are strategically aligned so we’re leveraging capabilities from one project to another. A focus on your core technical capabilities is important. And it’s a continuous thing. You have to keep working on proposals, stay up to speed, don’t dip in and out.

“The big benefit of being involved in Horizon projects is the contacts networks and the relationships that you make. You should think of the funding as seed funding to grow your activity. I don’t like the word project, because that suggests it’s done when it’s done. I think the Commission likes to think that every project is seeding something else much bigger.”

For advice or further information about applying for Horizon 2020 support please contact HorizonSupport@enterprise-ireland.com or consult www.horizoneurope.ie