Looking beyond borders
An upcoming conference to encourage small and medium enterprises to branch out into Europe as a market place will hear from a series of business owners that already operate outside of Ireland. Peter Horgan spoke with two of the speakers to find out if Europe really is viable.
The conference, ‘Open Minds to Open Markets; Rethinking the SME Market Place: New Opportunities in Europe’, will feature entrepreneurs and policy makers in University College Cork on 6 October, in an effort to convince them to utilise markets available to them in the European Union.
“It’s definitely important for Irish companies to work with other economies across Europe,” says Joan Walsh, the Director of Partnership Europe, a company that encourages co-operation and mobility of professional throughout the European Union through trade delegations, technical visits, au pair programmes and summer camps to name a few.
“It’s very important to diversify to other stronger markets across Europe. There are support networks there through organisations like the Cork Chamber of Commerce that can help businesses expand their markets.”
Ms Walsh admits that some businesses may be afraid to move beyond their comfort zones in the current economic climate, but that each company needs to delve into Europe and sell their wares effectively, through the help of conferences and networking.
“I don’t think networking is a buzz word in the business community at the moment, in fact it’s the simple reality of doing business,” insisted Ms Walsh.
“You have to build you network of contacts at events like the Open Mind conference. There is no guarantee of selling your business when you attend a conference like this, it’s up to you at the end of the day.”
Ms Walsh also highlights the relative strength of the other European economies as a viable marketplace for Irish business.
“Business is mostly done through English so there really is no issue of a language barrier for companies in Ireland expanding to the European Union,” says the director, who was named Network Cork’s Businesswoman of the year in 2011.
“It’s about getting the information on board, and then it’s up to you to do what you will with the information, and the support of the organisations with an interest in Europe.”
The conference is being organised by Network Cork and the European Parliament in Ireland in an effort to boost the economic efforts of business in Ireland with the resources that the EU offers to SMEs.
"It all depends on what type of business you are in" says Jim Breen of PulseLearning, which offer learning solutions to a range of different sectors.
"Ireland as a market is just too small to survive in, especially with the globalised marketplace we now live in. You've got to get out of the office, get on a plane or a boat and go see what opportunities are out there to be used."
Mr Breen urges those interested in the event to take advantage of the timing and networking opportunity that it provides, while cautioning against falling into a familiar pattern.
"There's no point in talking to people who you already know. Go to the event armed with your business cards and your iPhone and talk to people you don't know. Come out of the conference with appointments and dates and be ready to book your flights on Saturday afternoon."
"It's about real engagement. You can't expect to do well and not take advantage of opportunities like this conference offers you."
Along with Ms Walsh and Mr Breen, there will also be contributions from Mike McGrath of supply.ie and Katherine Fitzpatrick of the Enterprise Europe Network, which works with Cork SMEs looking to expand into Europe. There will also be representatives of EU and government bodies to discuss the various support systems in place.
The event is free of charge and takes place in the Boole auditorium in UCC on 6 October from 9.30am. Online booking is essential. To secure a seat through networkcork.com.