Wibo van Wier: 'International business? More is possible than you think!'
Thousands of SMEs in Drenthe are already active internationally. Numerous other companies in the province have the ambition and, more importantly, the potential to do so in due course. But what schemes and instruments are actually available to (further) support them towards international growth? Surprisingly a lot, as you can read in this blog.
Since August 2020, I have been working at NOM as account manager Trade IBDO, an abbreviation of Ik Ben Drents Ondernemer. Indeed, the program that helps Drenthe entrepreneurs continue to grow and develop. An initiative of the province of Drenthe in cooperation with NOM, MKB-fonds and the municipalities of Drenthe, among others. I focus exclusively on supporting SMEs that are active internationally. In other words, on export promotion. And yes, there is no shortage of companies with international ambitions in the province. Billions of euros are exported in Drenthe every year. In the past year I myself have held so-called Trade Relations meetings with some 70 export companies that together export 370 million euros and thus employ 2,100 people. Internationally operating companies are, in short, essential to the regional economy.
Identify bottlenecks and barriers
Of course, international business is exciting and challenging. However, it is by no means easy. In addition to a different language and culture, once you cross the border you have to deal with different laws and regulations and different business customs and habits. So quite a lot is asked of companies. From that knowledge I try to help them and guide them in the (inter)national work field. Among other things by drawing companies' attention to the regional, national and international support possibilities available from the various governments. At the same time, as part of a program of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I proactively enter into discussions with them to identify the bottlenecks and obstacles they encounter. To then look for the best possible solution. I notice that companies are usually pleasantly surprised. Simply because a solution is often more within reach than previously thought.
Embassies and NBSOs.
An example. Recently I was visiting a company in the water sector that wanted to expand its business into the Asian market, specifically Indonesia. In the Netherlands, thanks in part to water boards, provinces and civil engineering contractors, the sector is very transparent. But how is the water sector in Indonesia actually organized? And which bodies can you approach there to see if there is actually interest in our product? I immediately put the company in touch with the Netherlands Business Support Office (NSBO) in Indonesia. NBSOs, trade offices of the Dutch government, can be found all over the world. Together with the embassy, they form the Dutch economic network in the country in question, where internationally active companies are helped with, for example, finding market information, cooperation partners and information about local laws and regulations. Especially now that in times of COVID-19 it is sometimes difficult to cross the border, it can be interesting to use an NSBO to make initial contact. But you can also ask the international department of the Rijksdienst voor Ondernemend Nederland (RVO) to search their databases of the various countries for information relevant to you.
There are also various subsidy schemes to encourage and support international business. For example, the province of Drenthe has a voucher scheme for hiring external expertise, such as translators, tax specialists and lawyers. You can make use of this in view of, for example, the terms of delivery. This is because the Dutch terms of delivery are not valid in every country. So it is advisable not only to translate them, but also to have them drafted or checked by a lawyer. Another grant opportunity, but on a national level, is the Starters International Business (SIB) scheme of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Again a voucher scheme, including a voucher with which you can hire a coach to guide you in making a concrete plan of action and a voucher for traveling with a trade mission or visiting a foreign trade fair. Compared to the Drenthe voucher scheme, however, the SIB scheme has a slightly more complex application process. In some cases, it is also possible to use both schemes.
Large and wide network
Before joining NOM, I was involved in setting up an export promotion program in the Zwolle region. Before that, I owned an import and export company and worked for quite some time at the agency SenterNovem, now RVO. In addition to a lot of knowledge and experience, I built up a large national and international network in those years. Naturally, I also let entrepreneurs from Drenthe with international ambitions benefit from this network. For example, I regularly actively contribute to the strategy behind an export plan. If we come up against something, I can almost always find entrepreneurs, in Drenthe itself or abroad, who have faced the same challenges. Connecting entrepreneurs usually works very well. Experience shows that they enjoy learning from each other and helping each other out.
Close to the fire
The great thing about the Drenthe program is that we work closely with other regions and the RFO. This means that I am constantly informed about what is going on and what is going on in other Regional Development Programs. But also about what schemes are still coming up. One of these is a so-called Brexit Adjustment Reserve, a European subsidy to support companies that are or have been affected by the Brexit. The Northern Netherlands is now at the forefront of this, whereas previously this money not infrequently stayed in The Hague. In addition, a new public-private bank was recently launched to finance Dutch entrepreneurs with export ambitions. We are also going to cooperate with NOM. In other words: through the program and the network we are very close to the fire. And I see that as the main goal in my work: to ensure that The Hague comes closer to the northern region. And visa versa of course, ensuring that our internationally active entrepreneurs are able to make even better use of the Hague and European support possibilities.
Want to know more? Or inspired to get started with international business yourself? Then get in touch with me!