In the struggle of becoming competitive, SMEs often encounter the challenge of going international. Helping SMEs to better cope with the internationalisation perspective is an important subject on the European agenda. But solutions already exist, and policy makers everywhere are experimenting on the most appropriate strategies and tools, adapted to their regional contexts. Our webinar on 22 January presented two practice-proven solutions: export consortia and one-stop-shop.

Please find the replay of the webinar at the end of this article. 

Opening the webinar, the Policy Learning Platform experts on SMEs competitiveness, Rene Tõnnisson and Luc Schmerber provided the audience with an overview of key intervention areas for regions when supporting their SMEs to go international. In particular, measures supporting access to skills, knowledge, funding and markets as well as solutions for better regional governance are high on business support agendas across Europe, as well-illustrated by the featured good practices of Interreg Europe project partners:

Collective actions – export consortia

Granada Rodríguez Rubiano and Lucila Castro Rovillard, representing the Spanish partner from Extremadura region in the INTRA project, presented their good practice: Export Consortiums. The practice supports the setup of formal consortiums by at least three companies – of which at least one must have international experience – with a common international strategic plan. The support provided over a time span of one year focuses on the one side on the legal and contractual challenges of setting up such a joint venture, and on the other side on financing promotional and commercial activities.

The programme started 2010 and has supported since then the setup and development of 135 such consortiums, representing over 400 companies, many of them having reported successful international operations.  

Further relevant good practices with a similar approach are:

Collective support delivery – one-stop-shop/coordination of regional actors

Steve Samson from the SIE project presented the good practice: Kent International Busines, a one-stop-shop solution to ensure that trade support services in Kent are more coherent, joined-up & visible and raise awareness to the benefits of international trade. It is led by Kent County Council and includes different local partner organisations; mainly business support organisations, which join forces under the Kent International Business umbrella programme. The initiative relies on the members making non-financial contributions to run all activities.

On the same subject, Laurent Lecoeur brought to the discussion a similar good practice: Xport Accelerator from the FFWD EUROPE project. Laurent briefly explained how the three founding entities, the Normandy Development Agency, Normandy International Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Business France, decided to pool their resources and networks under the umbrella of the Xport Accelerator in order to offer jointly a better service to regional companies willing to start or boost their international development.

Further relevant good practices with a similar one-stop-shop approach, although not focusing on SME internationalisation but on SME support delivery in general, are:

Key messages

Pooling resources of SMEs for export

Targeting international markets remains a challenge for many SMEs and the barriers are manifold. They encompass a lack of internal human and financial resources, knowledge and capacity. The experience from the good practice presented, as well as the further relevant ones named here above, shows that connecting with peers, i.e. further SMEs, ideally with export experience, can definitely help lower those barriers for SMEs not yet exporting.Such connections can take different forms, such as structured clusters, comparable to joint ventures, or consortia established for a specific assignment. Networks focusing on mentoring and peer to peer exchanges can help access the necessary information and knowledge.

In all cases it appears that public support plays a crucial role in the early phases by providing adequate frameworks, thus lowering legal and administrative barriers, and covering part of the initial costs.

Management of business support delivery networks - one-stop-shop like initiatives

Although one-stop-shop like initiatives bringing under one roof the expertise of different organisations is not a new idea, it remains clearly a challenge for regional policymakers to get it right in terms of governance and management.

The closing panel discussion made clear the importance of having a clear allocation of responsibilities both in terms of institutions and persons for the management and coordination of regional business support delivery networks. It needs a network manager with a clear mandate and time to take care of the shop.

Following-up on the webinar, the topics of the governance and management of regional business support delivery systems and collective actions will be further explored by the Policy Learning Platform. Stay tuned!

In order to facilitate the navigation through the webinar, we present you with a short overview of timing:

  • 00:00:08 - Introduction by Raluca Toma on boosting exports through collective support and 
  • 00:06:10 - Introduction to the policy framework and challenges encountered by SMEs when internationalising by Luc Schmerber and Rene Tõnnisson
  • 00:23:40 - Lucila Castro from the INTRA project explains how their good practice used the setup of formal consortiums by at least three companies – of which at least one must have international experience – with a common international strategic plan.
  • 00:37:10 - Question from Luc Schmerber to Lucila Castro on the durability on the setup of formal consortiums.
  • 00:40:22 -  Steve Samson from SIE project explains all about the one-stop-shop solution to ensure that trade support services in Kent are more coherent, joined-up & visible and raise awareness to the benefits of international trade.
  • 00:51:28 - Question from Luc Schmerber to Steve Samson on whether a lot of resources are needed to achieve a successful one-stop-shop solution. 
  • 00:52:49 - Laurent Lecoeur from FFWD Europe project explains about pooling resources and networks together to offer better service to regional companies to start or boost international development.
  • 01:00:00 - Question from the audience to Laurent Lecoeur on whether the approach will continue once the project funding will end. 
  • 01:03:37 - Questions and panel discussion moderated by Rene Tõnnisson

Resources and further reading:

Overview of EU instruments supporting internationalisation

The digital library of the European Commission

Story on accelerating the internationalisation of regional SMEs

Interreg Europe projects focussing on internationalisation:

  • COMPETE IN - Competitive territories through internationalisation: SMEs competitiveness in globalised regions
  • EIS - Everywhere International SMEs
  • Inside Out EU - New approaches to improve SME internationalisation support policies
  • INTRA - Internationalisation of regional SMEs
  • SIE - SME Internationalisation Exchange
  • UpGradeSME - Improving policy instruments supporting innovative SME performance
Image credits: Photo by Porapak Apichodilok from Pexels