Commonwealth gains?

Nations as diverse as Australia, India, Malta and Malaysia are within the sights of SMEs expanding their efforts overseas.
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ENTREPRENEURS have been setting out their overseas ambitions after being named Export Champions by the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council (CWEIC).

Through its SME-focused Commonwealth First project, the council is selecting 100 growing companies to benefit from training, mentoring, business support and trade missions to key markets in the 52-nation bloc.

And representatives from its recently selected third cohort of 30 companies gathered in central London to hear more about the programme this week.

Among them was Liz Manfredi, sales and marketing manager for Warrington-based ICC Solutions.

The company, which specialises in Chip-and-PIN testing software and services,  is already a Department for International Trade export champion and exports to 63 countries, having tripled in size in two years.

“Over 90% of our business is export, and the majority of that is to North America, but we want to break into markets that haven’t yet migrated to chip and PIN,” Manfredi said.

“We already export to India and China but there’s definitely greater potential. We have a distributor in Hong Kong but China is a very difficult market to break in to.

Commonwealth flags in front of the Houses of Parliament
READ: Can British firms realise their Commonwealth ambitions?

“India is one area we particularly want to look into. The move towards using more cards rather than cash presents a great opportunity and we’re hoping to be involved in any Commonwealth trade missions there.”

Recent Commonwealth First missions have taken companies to Malaysia, Singapore and India.

And Cardiff-based tech investor and IP consultant David Hulston says he will be mentoring companies during trips to Canada and his native Australia.

“I work with the Queensland state government and Brisbane city authorities so I’ll hope to help these guys access the markets there,” he said.

“This is a great opportunity for them to network, make connections and get started in export, without having to fund the trip themselves.”

Alan Thompson, of Wirral-based hi-impact consultancy, can testify to the effectiveness of trade missions.

Having been named one of the first cohort of Export Champions, his company was able to join Prime Minister Theresa May’s trade mission to India and visit Malta with the Lord Mayor of London last year.

“It just gives you a new level of kudos and credibility to meet anyone you want to,” he said. His company finds innovative tech products – from virtual or augmented reality to humanoid robots – to help clients deliver messaging.

“I was able to get right to the people I needed to speak to, who you just can’t reach when you just pick up the phone. It’s like this process has done the due diligence for those Commonwealth countries looking to engage with private companies.”

Much of Thompson’s work is in education and as a result of the Malta mission, he secured a government contract to work with the island’s advisory teachers who are employed to drive up standards in the classroom.

And he’s integrating the YouTeachMe platform, set up by former headteacher, Paul Rose into his offering there.

Derby-based Rose, who set about transforming classroom practices through the video-sharing platform he dubs “YouTube for education”, was among the latest group of Export Champions.

He has 33 schools across the UK subscribed to YouTeachMe, which allows teachers to create and use their own videos, or grab and adapt videos from subject experts to help them better tailor lessons to their pupils. He believes making in-roads in to Malta could help him scale up.

“Malta is a nation of 80 schools and the bigger the network – the more teachers who make videos – the better value it becomes. It can be a transformational experience for teachers and Malta could prove to be a case study of the product working on a national level.”

Addressing the export champions, CWEIC chairman Lord Marland paid tribute to their entrepreneurial spirit.

“I admire enormously the risks you are taking,” he said. “The trading environment is very challenging.”

Companies could succeed through an “on-going focus on improving the quality of products and services along with excellent customer service, sensitive to diverse cultural needs”, he added.

UPDATE 5/10/17: Applications to join the fourth cohort of Export Champions have opened and can be made via the Commonwealth First website

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