Selling northern tech to the world
The North of England is a hub of excellence when it comes to technological advancement and the globalisation of the offering is rapid.
To understand the cross border dynamics of international technology, the Disruptors North conference assembled a panel of speakers alongside sponsor Clarion who represent major global ‘inbound’ players and Northern ‘outboand’ organisations who are leading the charge taking Northern technology overseas.
Chairing the session was Steve Crow, business development director at Clarion.
He was joined by Richard Moran, senior partner at Clarion, Sarah Tulip, head of digital transformation at BJSS, Ian McAleese, senior director of HR international at Snowflake, Claire Paxman, director of training & strategic initiatives at Paxman Scalp Cooling and Dave Tucker, founder and CEO of Glean.
Panellists were asked what some of the key drivers were for taking their businesses international, challenges they have faced and what tips they recommend for handling these challenges.
Tucker, whose firm supports learners with audio note-taking technology, said: “We were a start-up and needed to find a bigger market. It just happened that North America was the market we thought we had the best chance to succeed in.
“But it’s a been a huge learning journey and we continue to learn to this day.
“People in North America are very enthusiastic and they saw our product as interesting but we found this doesn’t automatically translate into sales.
“We worked with a consultant who helped us truly understand the market and the people within it.”
Asked for tips on breaking into a new overseas market, Tucker added: “Things will be different in ways you can’t predict. Don’t make assumptions, do your research, be prepared to question your business plan and find people you trust.”
Tulip said it would have been easy for BJSS to have focused on just being a major player in the UK, but its staff were keen to take the business abroad.
“Empowering our own staff to do this was one of the catalysts for going international,” she said.
“Being international gives us growth and resilience but as an organisation, once you reach a certain size it’s a big challenge to start again by going to another country where you don’t have a brand and no one knows who you are.
“We had a couple of goes at getting into North America, and had to learn how to operate in that space.
“International business is only 5% of our total turnover, so it’s still early days. But you should always be thinking globally and wanting to disrupt, whether you’re a big or small business.”
Moran said Leeds-based law firm Clarion began with intellectual property protection and recognised it would have to be able to defend clients’ interests wherever they were based in the world.
He encouraged businesses thinking of trading overseas to take advantage of the knowledge base available in the North.
“Things are very different in various jurisdictions and cultural difference are fundamental,” he said. “Just because a model works in one place doesn’t mean it will work elsewhere.
“But a lot of people across the North will already have experienced this and will be happy to connect with you and share what they’ve done.
“If people can make use of this ecosystem, it will support them. And many competitors are good at collaborating as well.”
McAleese said cloud data platform Snowflake had achieved massive overseas growth in only four years, going from an initial international team of three people in London to today’s total of 1,200 people based outside the company’s starting point in the US.
“A lot of this has been in the last 18 months – in November we go live in South Korea, Israel has just gone live and we’re growing our engineering bases in Berlin and Warsaw,” he said.
Asked how companies should respond to the difficulties involved in going global, he said: “I’ve done international HR for a long time and the most important point to make is that ‘great people find a way’. So long as you have great people you will find a way through these barriers.”
Paxman, whose company has pioneered a cold cap system to help people suffering hair loss due to chemotherapy, said the business now distributes to 60 countries.
The firm has been concentrating heavily on entering the North American market and now employs people in Canada, India, France, Germany and Scandinavia.
“The biggest challenges are negotiating the regulatory requirements for different countries,” she said. “There’s a lack of regulatory harmonisation across the globe and there are many medical device companies that don’t go abroad because of this.
“The USA is one of the world’s biggest healthcare markets, but we’ve had to set up a completely different model for the US, because they have a different healthcare system.”
The Disruptors North conference is a free one day event brought to you by TheBusinessDesk.com alongside headline sponsors Deloitte, Clarion, UKFast and Quba which set the challenge for businesses to pick a side and decide whether to be the disruptor or the disrupted.
The virtual conference is also being sponsored by Nexus, Curveblock, Stickyeyes, Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund, WeLink and Ribble Cycles. It showcased the businesses already leading the charge and innovating from the north and the next generation of entrepreneurs and companies that are aiming to transform the regional, national and global economy.