Growing numbers of SME businesses across the North West are tapping into financial support available from the Department of International Trade (DIT) to fuel their export journeys.
A conference attended by business leaders from Lancashire and Cumbria heard first-hand how the DIT’s Internationalisation Fund is making a difference to companies in all sectors of the economy.
The event, hosted by Lancashire Business View magazine in association with the DIT, focused on how companies can finance their international ambitions and businesses shared their experiences of how support had helped them on their journeys.
It also highlighted the wider range of support and expertise available from the DIT and other organisations to help businesses begin or expand their overseas trade.
The Internationalisation Fund is available to SMEs with match-funding of up to £9,000 available.
The fund can be used for a variety of activities including market research, translation services, market visits, attending trade fairs and consultancy.
The breakfast event, at Lancaster House Hotel in Lancaster, brought together professionals in the support and funding arena and business leaders who have benefitted from the help available.
Lynne Gillen, export manager for Lancashire at the DIT, said North West businesses were tapping into the Internationalisation Fund to support them in a range of areas, including increasing their marketing activity and engaging specialist consultants.
She urged more businesses to look at what is available to them and said: “Companies really need to know more about this. You can use it to help you with your international journey; for consultancy, travel, for trade shows, for legal advice.”
Sarah Peak, DIT export manager for Cumbria, said there was evidence some companies were spending money to support their export ambitions without realising that the fund was there and could help them.
She urged businesses to get in touch and said: “We are here to help businesses to grow their exports or to start them. We are here to engage with businesses and also their intermediaries.”
The conference also heard of the wider support available from the DIT, including the UK Tradeshow Programme, which offers government support to help businesses attend or exhibit at overseas shows effectively, as well as its network of expert trade advisors.
The DIT’s Export Academy is part of its training offering, giving businesses the know-how to sell to customers around the world by learning from experts in international trade.
The event also heard from financial experts Paul Ramsay, international trade director at HSBC and Kevin Ledwith, export finance manager at UK Export Finance.
Kevin explained the supporting role UK Export Finance plays in international trade including providing bank guarantees, supporting working capital loans and insuring against buyer default to help companies get paid.
He advised companies looking at overseas markets to “do their homework” and added: “Know what risks you are going to face, and you can mitigate against them.”
Paul highlighted the importance of exporting to businesses. He said: “It is well proven that in times of recession or hardship, companies that are exporting are a lot more resilient to those shocks than those that aren’t.”
He urged businesses looking to export to “engage early” with their partners including their bank. He said: “Speak to us at an early stage. We can add value, we want to add value.”
Stepping out on a global journey
Business leaders from across the North West came together to share their international trade journeys and how DIT support, including funding, had got them on the right road.
Dr Frank Allison is chief executive and founder of FIS 360, which specialises in supporting the commercialisation of early-
stage technologies and taking them through to a commercial offering, generating funding and returning revenues. It has offices in Penrith, Cumbria and Stockport, Greater Manchester.
He told the conference the business was just starting on its export journey and had used Internationalisation Fund money to support its work understanding where there might be opportunities, including in the nuclear sector in North America, and how to approach those markets.
He explained: “The fund has help us clarify and understand who the key players are and how we need to develop those relationships.”
The DIT had also acted as a “sounding board” and its independent advice had been invaluable, he added.
The fund had enabled the business to present what it does to an audience in North America that also included major UK players. He said: “They now perceive us in a different light because they have seen us on the international stage.”
Rob Binns is a Preston based entrepreneur and director of hair product FYC (For Your Curls). The award-winning product range is specially designed for mixed race and curly hair and is looking to take a slice of a hair care market worth £1.72bn in the UK alone.
He said that the brand was now attracting a lot of overseas interest and as a cosmetic product, it had to meet international regulations when it came to export sales.
Rob explained how working with the DIT had helped the business understand more clearly what was needed to comply and had taken away some of the major complications he believed it was facing.
He said: “It looked like it was an absolute nightmare. It was also so confusing, then we went through the DIT process, and we got a much clearer view of the situation.”
Rob, who shared his ambition to run a global business, said that without the support received he would have spent “ten times more” with outside consultants.
Tanya Mulesa is the founder of sustainable convertible shoe brand Cleverstein, based in Halton, near Lancaster. Tanya also won the 2019 Global Women Inventors and Innovators Network Awards for Exceptional Creativity.
She explained how she had used the Internationalisation Fund to engage an expert consultant specialising in wholesaling to help her understand how to enter the global markets she is targeting, which include the US and Australia.
Tanya also revealed how she had benefited from DIT’s training offering, including taking advantage of its Export Academy.
She said: “Don’t try to do everything by yourself. There are so many people out there who know their stuff when it comes to exporting.
“If you need that help from consultants, go get it and focus on what you are best at, whether that is product development or sales.”
Simon Plumbridge is a marketing specialist based in South Lakeland. His women's recycled activewear business Araa Active was established in 2016 as a one stop online store.
He explained how the DIT had supported its expansion into European markets by helping the business develop a series of international websites.
Simon told the delegates: “The aim was to increase our sales in those markets. The focus on the websites means that customers in France and Germany can go onto their local site and everything is there for them in their own language, including methods of payments. The buying process is simple.”
He added: “We had a clear strategy. We knew what we wanted to do and how to get there. We are a small business, so the financial support was invaluable.
“It would have been very difficult to develop these international sites without it. We also got support getting the project off the ground. There’s a real sense of pride in exporting, in making a contribution to the UK economy.”
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