Why go on an international trade mission?

Having joined Sadiq Khan on a mission to New York, Pavegen's Laurence Kemball-Cook explains how trade events can really help your business grow...

On September 14 2016, myself and entrepreneurs behind 23 of the fastest growing start-ups in London flew across the Atlantic to the US for a trade mission aiming to promote British business.

Taking place in both Chicago and New York, the trade mission was in aid of the global #LondonIsOpen movement, hosted by the mayor of London; Sadiq Khan.

Trade missions are an opportunity to showcase your company, gain valuable contacts through networking, and strengthen ties with governments, investors and policy makers. Trade events contribute to the development and growth for entrepreneurs and small businesses to navigate and extend their reach into international markets.

Source: WeWork, Lauren Kallen)

Source: WeWork, Lauren Kallen)

I believe in the power of three: working with governments, celebrities and my clients.

As long as you focus on these three groups, your business will continue to grow. This is where the strengths lie when it comes to trade missions – you will be exposed to influential people and gain an insight into how to make your business succeed on a global scale.

The first few days of the trade mission were spent in Chicago, where I had the privilege of socialising with both the mayor of London (pictured below) and the mayor of Chicago; Rahm Emanuel, over dinner.

The rest of the week was spent in New York where my business took centre stage at the flagship event, hosted by London and Partners at WeWork in Chelsea supporting Sadiq Khan’s #LondonIsOpen movement whilst also showcasing our innovative technology.

laurence and sadiq

Sadiq Khan and I in Chicago, with Greg Colando; board advisor for Pavegen

To get involved in a trade mission you will need to do your research beforehand. Find out who is organising the trade mission and get in contact. In this instance, London and Partners were my main port of call and could provide me with all the information I needed.

The UKTI website is also very useful, and other websites such as exportbritain.org are host to a whole range of trade missions that you can research and choose from. There are several ‘champions’ within these organisations who are worth being close to and it is usually pretty evident who these people are. For me, these champions were Pru Ashby, Janet Coyle, Mia Hastings and Ben Pattie.

UKTI (recently re-branded to the Department for International Trade) is the government official for trade and investment with an aim to help UK-based companies succeed in the global economy.

As trade missions can often be expensive, especially if you’re a start-up company, you can contact your international trade advisor to see if they can provide you with any funding. You should always choose the trade mission most aligned with your company’s long term vision and goals to ensure you get the most out of your trip.

london is open

Source: WeWork, Lauren Kallen

It is key to have a game plan, and spend time in advance looking at the schedule to choose which events are worth your time. For example, if there was an afternoon of meetings not relevant to Pavegen during the trade mission, I would decide to utilise my time better and invite corporations for face to face meetings at the British embassy.

I also arranged to meet with US-based companies and press. For example, I was aware of a media company called Futurism which is interested in innovative tech and organised an interview with them (you can see the article here).

It’s also important to remember that plans can change last minute so it’s always a good idea to organise a plan B – it’s never good to travel across the world and be left twiddling your thumbs.

Pavegen tech

Pavegen technology

To ensure I made the most of my time, I coordinated the trade mission with our product launch in the US. We are currently installing our technology (see above) in Washington DC, minutes away from the White House, signifying our expansion into international markets.

One of the most special moments of the trip was when I joined two fellow CEO’s of London based start-ups, Laura Stembridge of Jambo and  Nena Chaletzos of Luxtripper, at the closing ceremony of the New York Stock Exchange. This was the climax of the trade mission and what a way to end the trip on a high! It was an experience I will never forget.

stock exchange

At the New York Stock Exchange

Throughout the week I was introduced to some inspirational people, and formed valuable relationships that will hopefully translate into future business opportunities, helping to keep the tech scene growing faster than ever in London post-Brexit.

There was a totally epic team of start-ups present including my friend Emma Sinclair MBE who is founder and CEO of EnterpriseJungle. The start-up community is super supportive so it’s key to stick together, have fun and share each other’s networks.

snapchat singalong

Snapchat singalongs w/Emma Sinclair and Priya Lakhani

If you are a start-up or small business hoping to expand globally and access international markets, here’s my valuable trade mission advice:

  • Try to see a trade mission as an investment – if you are organised and prepared you will hopefully leave with the right connections and business opportunities.
  • If the trip seems out of your budget, contact your International Trade Advisor or UKTI and they may have some funding available for start-ups.
  • Ensure the trade mission is completely relevant to your company – if this trade mission won’t contribute towards your long-term goals or company’s vision, is it worth going?
  • Devise a strategy before the trip – you should set goals for the trip and understand what you want to achieve.
  • Following up is key – always remember to contact the people you have met after the trip, it re-establishes your connections and also ensures that they have your contact details for future use (and remember to forward any information you promised to send over!) I personally use CAMCARD to build a database of everyone I meet, allowing me to digitalise all the business cards I receive and saving contact details under different groups.

A fact to leave you with – businesses that expand internationally almost always have a higher turnover than those that don’t. Utilising the power of trade missions will help your business progress and allow you to compete on the global stage; I’m already planning my next trip to the US in 2017!

Laurence Kemball-Cook is the founder and CEO of cleantech company Pavegen, the flooring technology that turns wasted kinetic energy from footsteps into renewable electricity.

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