In my last column I talked about the Baltic States as a potential business bridge for European and U.S. companies seeking to work in the Russian and CIS markets. If I may be allowed a bit of naked self-promotion and patriotic flag-waving, the same is true for my own country, Scotland, which has long been a bridge for companies looking to access the English and U.S. markets.
At the end of last week I was happy to attend the opening of the new Scottish Baltic Enterprise Center at Napier University at Livingston, near Edinburgh. The Enterprise Center is the first of its kind in the UK, and has been established with the aim of helping technology companies from the Baltic States enter the UK market, and then use the UK as a base to expand to the U.S. and the rest of the English-speaking world.
The idea for the center has been developed by my business, Cormack Consultancy Baltic, and a number of other UK companies and institutions who have been working in the Baltics and who understand the importance of the “trade bridge” concept. We recognize the quality of the technologies being developed in the Baltics, and believe that the opening of a dedicated center to support the development of these businesses will exponentially accelerate the growth of these businesses.
But the initiative is not a one way street. We are currently in discussions with a number of institutions in the Baltics about opening an equivalent facility, in either Latvia or Lithuania, to offer support to UK companies who want to work in the Baltics, either to tap into the excellent local research base and develop new products, or to use the Baltics as a strategic base for targeting the Russian and CIS markets.
The center in Scotland is situated in the “business incubator” run by the Institute for Product Design and Manufacture in Livingston, a strategic location in central Scotland. The Institute is well known across Scotland as a center of excellence for product design across a wide range of sectors. Their role is to assist companies who have an idea for a new product to help them to develop it to a stage where it can be taken to the market. The institute has an experienced staff who will be available to support Baltic companies refine their product for the UK or U.S. markets.
In addition, the center will offer a wide range of subsidized and discounted services to the companies which use the
Enterprise Centers, from offering virtual and serviced offices, through to help locating and negotiating with local UK partners and customers, support in recruiting local staff, and access to expertise in marketing, legal and accountancy services. The Center will also look to develop a range of training programs for Baltic and UK businesses designed to help them in understanding the other’s market.
The center is intended as a hub for some of the active UK investors who are interested in investing in the development of technology in a range of sectors; the center will look to work with a partner who can build a detailed database of potential investors, and if required will be able to assist in introducing Baltic companies to these investors.
When discussing this with some of our Baltic partners, their initial reaction was that this could be seen as a plan for the UK to steal IP-rich companies from under their noses. Not so. There is no requirement for any company to be UK registered; rather, we want to offer Baltic businesses a stable platform in the UK to develop their market entry strategy, and begin to export successfully.
The hope is that these centers will allow both Scotland and the Baltics to play to their strengths. Both areas have high-quality academic institutions, an understanding that the future must be through the development of world-class technology-based businesses and have a strategic position which allows them to offer access to large and sophisticated markets.
I suspect that the question going through many readers’ minds will be: how much does all this cost? There will obviously be charges for the companies looking to use the centers; where possible, these costs will be subsidized, and the fees of all partners will be discounted. But developing exports is an expensive business, and the aim of the center is to offer excellent service and try to minimize the risk for companies.
I hope that this initiative will be able to link into some of the other excellent initiatives being developed in Latvia and Lithuania, to work in Silicon Valley and other areas, and can go some way to supporting Baltic economic recovery by helping high-value, high-quality companies export their products.