EU-funded support programme for SMEs: EU Business Avenues Southeast Asia

The EU-funded EU Business Avenues in South East Asia is tasked to help SMEs from EU countries with business internationalisation. ScandAsia takes an in-depth look and talks to some Nordic companies who participated in one of their missions to Southeast Asia within Information & Communication Technologies. How does it work? Who is it for? And is it successful?

The origins of this business support initiative stems from the EU Gateway Programme, launched as a pilot back in 1990 to deepen economic interaction and cooperation between Europe and Japan.

Up until 2007 that programme had organised 66 business missions, with in to total 3,369 European companies from 19 diverse business sectors participating. According to the programme these events act as entry tickets for European companies to a market with opportunities that can be difficult to penetrate due to business culture or regulatory constraints.

The Southeast Asia edition was launched as a pilot in 2014, replicating well tested previous EU-funded business missions to Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam.

Since 2016, after 25 years of presence in the Asian market, the programme has become a leading business platform establishing successful partnerships between European and Asian firms in Japan, Korea, South East Asia – and China, which was added to the list of potential target markets as a pilot. Running between 2016 and 2020 a total of 56 EU-funded business missions will take place to the region.

EU Business Avenues in South East Asia aims to bring up to 1,000 European SMEs on targeted business missions to Southeast Asia during a five-year period to help them develop their businesses outside of Europe. Built upon a concept of matchmaking and business support services, the Business Avenues programme helps European companies to forge long-lasting business collaborations in several markets, including Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand. A business mission to South East Asia always starts in Singapore and also includes a visit to one other Asean country.

The following sectors are covered: Contemporary European Design, Environment & Water Technologies, Organic Food & Beverage, Green Energy Technologies, Healthcare & Medical Technologies, and Information & Communication Technologies.

How a company can join? The programme uses a competitive process to select the best candidates for the business missions. “It all starts with an Expression of Interest (EoI) for a specific business mission, which is submitted online by a European company. The EoI includes basic information to help determine the eligibility of the company. Once submitted, it is reviewed by the Programme,” the organiser explains.

If a company is considered eligible, it is invited to finalise the application for the business mission. The applications are assessed by independent experts using established criteria that take into account the company’s business strategy, capacity and viability, as well as market potential of its products.

“Up to 50 companies demonstrating the highest potential for establishing new business collaboration are selected for each business mission to Southeast Asia.”

Pre-arranged business meetings with local companies are accomplished through a well-planned process: “First, European companies gather in Brussels for a pre-departure meeting in preparation for a business mission. They meet with our team and help us get a better understanding of what each participant is looking for in Southeast Asia and what kind of business partners they hope to find. Based on this information, we look for the best fit to the company ‘wish list’, and we then physically schedule business meetings with local companies.”

The programme also states that through their stakeholder engagement programme they work very closely with chambers of commerce, trade associations, government agencies etc. Through these efforts they can tap onto those networks to further enhance business matching efforts, as well as to generate greater awareness for the programme and the upcoming missions.

Third, the programme performs marketing efforts to promote each mission.

Finally, through participation in major trade shows (such as ConnecTechAsia, one of the most established trade shows for ICT sector) the organiser taps on a targeted audience and makes use of trade show organiser’s business matching facility.

The ‘Information & Communication Technologies Business Mission to Singapore and Thailand’ brought European SMEs (including some Nordic companies) to participate in ConnecTechAsia, followed by pre-arranged business meetings with local companies in Bangkok.

IWA – rock-solid digital solutions

Rami Korhonen CEO & Co-Founder of IWA (provider of ‘rock-solid digital solutions’) says that IWA had been contacted in previous year too but had not felt ready to participate then. However, this year they applied. IWA has presence in Thailand and solutions that include using blockchain technology for the property industry.

With regards to matchmaking with prospects in Singapore and Bangkok Rami replied that the organiser did a relatively good job. “But so far it looks like the most potential meetings were walk-ins or arranged by us or Finnish Embassy in Singapore. Time will tell which ones end up being the best contacts.”

All in all he thought the participation in the Singapore trade show was very positive, though booth style and their location could have been better (more open style and closer to “hot spots”).

On the costs for his company to participate Rami says: “The EU sponsored most of the trip. Our company had to cover very reasonable flights and hotel costs for our other team members, plus some extra travel costs. I think in total we had to pay around $2000, which is very low considering the positive exposure we got. If we would have done everything we did by ourselves, the cost would have most likely been 5-10 times more than what we paid, which was great. We cannot thank the EU (tax payers) and the EU Gateway team enough.”

IWA was mainly looking for direct customers and potential sales/development partners.

“Singapore was a new experience for me. I knew that it is a very developed market and this was proven true. In that market I see most potential for us with blockchain-related projects. Thailand is more familiar for us as we have had an office on Khon Kaen since 2010. However, so far we have done only small cases for Thailand-based clients and most business for us has been in Europe and the Middle-East. However, given the huge size of the Thailand market, and the serious potential in using digitalization in improving the conditions of its citizens, I think that over time we can help Thai organizations with significant digitalization projects. We have already done large ‘digital society’ development projects for example in Saudi Arabia and Finland,” comments Rami.

FA Solutions – investment management software

FA Solutions was another Finnish company in the mission, promoting their transaction-based multi-currency investment management software.

Today over 100 clients (wealth managers, robo advisors, fund managers, family offices, and private banks) in highly regulated markets in Asia, EU, and the Middle East are users of this platform.

FA Solutions participated in EUBASEA already last year, having been approached. “Last year we concentrated on doing some more market research in the region, to get a good picture how our product and offering would suit the market, along with meeting with our existing clients in Singapore. This year we concentrated on finding a business partner to represent us and our product in the region,” Marketing Communications Manager Anni Salo tells ScandAsia.

“The EU Business Avenues team spent quite a lot of time and utilized their local contacts to reach potential partners and clients to meet us.”

“We met with both direct customers as well as business partners. In terms of partnerships, we were looking for companies that could represent our product both in sales but also in local customer projects and perhaps also customer support.”

“Basically, we pay for the flights and approximately half of the accommodation. We do not need to pay for participating in the programme, nor the exhibitions in the target countries,” she informs.

Standard services are fully funded by the EU (100% co-financing of standard strategic and organizational services, plus up to € 1.000 co-funding of accommodation costs). There is also 80% co-financing for customised strategic and organisational services up to € 1.000.

Having a successful outcome depended on the company being heavily in the matchmaking pre-planning, steering EU Business Avenues’ matchmaking team towards the right kind of companies.

“And that was worth the effort. With good cooperation we ended up in a situation where all the meetings we had during the week were really successful and relevant. The key to success was to combine our expertise about the industry we work in with the local networks and knowledge offered by the EU Business Avenues team,” explains Anni.

She points out the benefits of the programme as follows: 1) You’re not alone, but you have the support from the EU team as well as get to meet and work with other EU companies with the same growth initiatives. 2) EU Business Avenues has really good local teams on the ground in SEA to pitch us to local companies and book the meetings. They have local networks and they can introduce us to prospects with the local language, which increases the chance to get a meeting with them. 3) Financial support from the EU (e.g. participating the trade show was totally free of charge for us).

FA Solutions view the opportunities in Southeast Asia as favourable: “We can see that the financial market is growing there, which means our market is growing too. We can serve newly grounded start-ups as well as digitalizing and automating the processes of established companies that are looking fro new ways of efficiency and serving clients in the digital world. We have the possibility to gain market share in Singapore, the wealth hub of Asia, as we are already familiar with working in a highly regulated environment.”

Seluxit – Internet of Things platform

Seluxit (Denmark), represented by Brian Boyles, promoted their services, especially their successful Internet of Things platform, joining EUBASEA for the second time.

“There are many good European programs that aim to help SMEs succeed. Over the years, Seluxit has participated in numerous projects, including a series of R&D projects such as H2020. This serves not only to help our business, but to create a space for activities that aren’t focused on generating business here and now, but which have more long-term business perspectives. The opportunity to participate in EU Business Avenues’ event came from simply noticing an offer in an email which we received because of our participation in similar program,” comments Brian.

Seluxit has created an IoT platform based on 12 years of existence and many IoT projects. “We are seeking to expand globally with a partner network that can use our IoT platform to solve their customers’ problems. Although finding partners was the primary concern for our trip, we also were able to contact some companies that we could work with directly as our own customers.”

Brian thinks the result was on a satisfactory level: “In Singapore, we participated in seven pre-arranged meetings and twelve relevant ‘walk-ins’. In Bangkok we had ten pre-arranged meetings and one walk-in. The quality of the meetings varied, but there was enough business potential to put the possibility of a self-financed return trip in the fall of 2018 on the table.”

“The ASEAN market is very attractive and the opportunities for providing tools for digital transformation along a long range of topics are clear. The difficulties loom large as well, for example language, but for us at this stage in the game, we feel we can come far with a partnership model where the difficulties are eased by the local knowledge of business partners. Who knows what that could ultimately result in? The ultimate success of this plan is yet to be seen, but the quality of the prospective partners and the ease of communication were high, so we have a positive view on the possibility of succeeding in the ASEAN market,” he furthermore comments.

Prezentor – Sales Enablement platform

Another platform comes from Prezentor (Denmark) – a ‘Sales Enablement platform’ that changes the way sales is done. “Advanced technology automatically collects data about the customers’ needs and preferences during the sales meeting,” explains COO Sara Leander-Pehrson. The unique customer insight becomes extremely powerful big data and business intelligence.

“We were contacted by the EU Business Avenues after having participated in the Danish Pavilion at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. They thought our solution would fit in the program and had potential in the Asian markets. We fully agree and although entering the Asian markets were not in our strategy until in one to two years we felt that this would be a great first step in a long term growth strategy,” says Sara, who adds they had a very good experience and felt supported throughout the whole process.

“These kinds of initiatives from the EU and from individual nations are extremely important and supportive for small companies like ours. It helps us build networks and market knowledge to faster, and find new customers. We’re very happy and grateful for the opportunity.”

“In this case the EU subsidies a larger portion of the costs than most national organisations. Apart from that I find that both national and EU organisations generally do a splendid and hard work to promote our companies internationally,” thinks Sara.

“Exhibiting at a trade show is always interesting as you meet both have pre-arranged meetings and ‘spontaneous’ meetings. We definitely had some very relevant meetings with concrete opportunities coming out of it.”

At this point in time Prezenter is primarily looking for sales partners and re-sellers to support them in gaining the first foot hold in the markets.

“We have only scratched the surface to the both the understanding and the opportunities for Prezentor in Singapore and Thailand. We see a clear need and market readiness for our solution, with a high level of technological adaptation and a will to use and invest in digital technologies to work smarter.“

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