ITS stands for International Trade Support. First line advise service for SMEs willing to grow their international activity in exports or imports.
ITS has been organised on instigation of the Province of Friesland. Municipality of Leeuwarden have assisted in the initiation phase as well and now supports the ITS organisation.
The Frisian economy is lacking exports compared to the national statistics. There are many regional SMEs which are supplying half-fabricate products to companies in other parts of the country and which are then exported. These Frisian companies should develop a specific product or productline for themselves and start exporting. To find out who is able to that, a first line organisation is needed to go into the field and meet the entrepreneurs. The advisor of ITS can signpost the entrepreneur to a known body in the region (such as Enterprise Europe, World Trade Center or other international support organisations). ITS is used to go out and talk to as many SMEs as possible.
Part of the ITS work is also research. This is executed by the NHL/Stenden university, a university in the region and contributor to ITS. The research tries to find reasons why SMEs do not export as much as the national average.
First product of ITS is the Export Carousel. 4-6 students from NHL/Stenden are connected to the SME companies and execute market research in foreign markets. Foreign students at NHL/Stenden with roots in foreign countries are used to increase the fit between students, companies and markets.

Resources needed

The resources needed for this 4 year project is approximately 2 MEuro. Of which 950.000 Euro in cash and the rest in kind support by the executing organisations. In ITS 3 FTE people are actively working. It needs back up support by the Provincial Government.

Evidence of success

In 2018, ITS has served 107 Frisian companies and has initiated 39 projects with 251 students and 40 professors. Meanwhile 6 projects have been concluded, 17 are running, 13 are in evaluation phase, 4 are stopped. 12 companies have increased exports, 15 companies have increased awareness of exports. Also 4 new co-operations have initiated between 6 universities and 12 SMEs to foster cross border co-operation.
Outcomes of the research in general is a lack of co-operation. ITS changes this fact.

Potential for learning or transfer

For peripheral regions like Friesland in the Netherlands, with a backlog in international working, this ITS system works well. There is money and time available to address individual SMEs and reach out on an individual advice level. Co-operation is organised between Universities, Government and SME companies.
To implement the line of working of ITS, an entity should be established or found which will act as a first line of advise service point. People with business oriented competences should be asked to run it and start to communicate pro-active with enterpreneurs in the region.
Policy makers can use the experience of ITS by either asking ITS to come and tell about the service or to come and see ITS in Leeuwarden. They would be happy to make time for you and demonstrate their model.

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Main institution
Province of Fryslân
Drenthe, Netherlands (Nederland)
Start Date
November 2017
End Date


Lennard Drogendijk Please login to contact the author.