A recent trip to Canada got me thinking…

A recent trip to Canada, under the umbrella of Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT) and the Flemish Enterprise Network (VOKA), got me thinking: sponsored trips and subsidies really help companies to extend their footprint. It takes some time and perseverance, but trade missions and subsidized projects do generate results!

Subsidies for companies have been a topic of debate for some time now. But when I look at ONTOFORCE, I can say that, from the very beginning, we’ve been able to grow thanks to many of these Belgian and Flemish economic initiatives. Companies that are ready to explore new markets, should definitely consider this as well. But do your homework firstly and keep the focus! Not every market abroad is the right one for you.

In our experience

Here are some of our experiences with this.

  • At ONTOFORCE, we had to think globally from Day 1. As we started to build a diverse network, we also learned about the possibilities of subsidies. From then on, we participated in a few international conferences as part of a Belgian delegation. And thanks to FIT subsidies, we were able to make some noise at renowned US conferences like BIO IT World and AACR.
  • At one of these large US conferences, ‘BIO International’, we got introduced to the Canadian market by the energetic Flemish economic representative for the Region of Montreal and the East of Canada: Mieke Pynnaert. This resulted in a trip to the SiLS conference in 2015 in Sherbrook (CA). On Mieke’s advice, we combined this trip with visits to Montreal and Toronto. The result? Several contracts were signed, we established interesting partnerships with well-known institutes such as McGill University, and closed a sponsorship deal with an alumni group of the University of Toronto.
  • It’s important to maintain good relations with organisations like Flanders Trade and others, also in between trips. That way, you can surf on several waves to keep the market warm while you don’t have to spent all of your time on this potential new market. Maintaining a high-powered network here is key!
  • After visiting Canada twice, we recently went back thanks to the support and joint effort of FIT and VOKA (via the Start2Export2Canada initiative). During this relatively small trade mission, we visited Montreal, Quebec and Sherbrook again, following up on our contacts from last year. As such, this became our most successful mission so far, with 6 new deals in the pipeline and a close partnership with 2 Belgian players in the same field.

The value of trade missions

What makes this kind of trade mission even more valuable, is, not only do you have the opportunity to meet highly relevant companies abroad and learn about the economic landscape over there, you also travel with other Belgian companies and get to network and talk business with your peers.

Trade missions and subsidies have been important in our growth trajectory. But, it’s also important to do your homework:

  • Don’t expect that everything will be delivered to you on a silver plate.
  • Make sure you inform the organizing team about what you do and what your expectations are.
  • Do some research on potential customers and/or partners in the region and let them know what you are looking for.

The combination of your know-how and product expertise with the network and investment power of organisations such as Flanders Bio, FIT, VOKA and so many others, provide you with everything you need to successfully gain a large share of a new market.

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