SODERCAN, the Regional Development Agency for Cantabria, has put in place several export consortia focussing on metals, agri-food and marine renewable energies.
There are many barriers for SMEs wishing to export including a lack of internal resources, knowledge and capacity to fulfil potential international orders. Potential contracts are often lost as companies may only have the ability to provide partial solutions to the requirements of large projects.
In order to help local firms to access to wider opportunities and to boost capacity to win international business, SODERCAN has put in place several 'Export Consortia' with focus on metal, agri-food and, currently under development, marine renewable energies.
The approach to developing export consortia is as follows:
-Identify relevant companies (around 25) in the chosen sector with export potential and which are able to trade internationally.
-Bring the companies together for introductory meetings to explain aims, processes and benefits.
-Allow the SMEs to get to know each other and to identify strengths, weaknesses and gaps in competencies and service/product offers.
-Allow companies to decide whether to join or not.
-Provide funding to formally stablish the consortium.
-Appoint a consortium manager and establish internal processes.
-Market the consortium internationally promoting the 'full service' offer e.g. from design and manufacturing to shipping or installation.
This model requires a high level of trust between the SMEs and a commitment to respond quickly to contracts. SODERCAN finances and follows the progress of the consortia but these are private sector-led.
Initial seed funding the consortia is required (up to €700.000) as well as staff resources to research potential member SMEs, set up the consortium and monitor its progress.
Member companies themselves then pay financial contributions to the ongoing management of the consortium.
Evidence of success
The first two export consortia in Cantabria have been successful. Success is measured by the ability of the groups to win new overseas orders and contracts and to operate effectively as a consortium. Individual companies would not join or continue to be part of cluster activities if participation was not beneficial. The fact that companies are willing to pay membership fees and take part in consortia bids, contracts and activities shows that the scheme makes commercial sense.
It is important that companies get to know each other in order to build up mutual trust, specially between them which may otherwise be competitors. Having contracts within each company and setting up rules and roles, help to deal with the complexities. Financing is essential on the developing phase.
Potential for learning or transfer
Many European regions face similar challenges with encouraging more companies to trade internationally. Even larger businesses can struggle to access contracts and win international business. The consortia approach is something that benefits companies and has demonstrated proven results for Cantabrian companies with significant international contracts being secured. This model could be replicated in other European regions by focusing on linking companies from key economic sectors in order to help them to do business together internationally.
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