What are stereotypes if they’re not there to be smashed? We did a bit of that when my team of judges met to decide on the winners of UK Trade & Investment’s East Meets East competition. That was part of our initiative to get companies across the East of England to realise the huge opportunities open to them on the other side of the world – and realise how we can help.
By 2030 China, India, Japan and their smaller neighbours across Asia and the Pacific will be leading the world, with an economy out-stripping even the mighty G7, the group of top industrialised nations of which we’re a part.
Business Weekly readers won’t need reminding how big a deal the Asian economy is these days. But only a fifth of SMEs in Britain export at all – and it is hardly surprising that Asia may seem just too distant, and a challenge too far, for many smaller businesses in the East of England, especially if they are just starting up. But that view of the world needs to change.
It was really encouraging to thumb through the entries for the East Meets East competition and find so many companies that obviously are up for the challenge.
Stereotype number one: that we’d only get entries from the usual suspects. In the East we don’t only have companies that are doing wonderful things in the medical, pharma and bio-tech sector that everyone knows – but also lots of really good engineering companies. The over-riding impression was the range of entrants – everything from financial services to retail, from electronics to engineering.
And, gosh, weren’t they good? In fact there were very few entries that we didn’t think would work – but our judges, like Lord Sugar and the Dragons, had to pick winners.
Stereotype number two: that every bright twenty-something is after a high-paid job in the City. I went to see the overall winners – a Norwich engineering company with big ambitions in Asia – and met some young engineers there who gave the lie to the idea that our top graduates just want to make a quick buck in the City. There is an awful lot of very high-calibre engineering talent out there and it is brilliant to see a company in the East of England making use of it.
For the sake of our economy, we’ve got to hope they stay in engineering to develop their skills and continue Britain’s world-leading traditions. What PPI Engineering does – designing, supplying and servicing electric motors and generators for the energy industry – may not be metal-bashing as we have traditionally known it, but it is certainly continuing Britain’s great traditions of innovation and enterprise that date back to the Industrial Revolution.
PPI’s prize is £3,000 of market research support from UKTI – towards the cost of one of our Overseas Market Introduction Service (OMIS) packages, specially designed for companies trying to break into new markets. They are going to use it to investigate potential partners in China, India and South Korea, specifically with an eye to opportunities in renewable energy.
The two runners-up – winning £1,000 of business help from UKTI - were electronic and mechanical instrument makers IMC Group and its Lamerholm subsidiary, from Letchworth in Hertfordshire, and Anglia Ruskin University, based in Chelmsford and Cambridge.
IMC will be using its OMIS package to find a specialist distributor in China for the high-tech shock recorders it makes – keeping an eye on ‘hidden’ damage to equipment in the oil and gas industry in transit or in daily use. Anglia Ruskin will be using it to research new markets for their unique training programme in keyhole surgery for sufferers from bowel cancer.
But the good news is that everyone can be a winner. We will be contacting all the companies who entered to try to spell out the benefits of an OMIS package – to help their business dreams come true. You can find out more about the Overseas Market Introduction Service at http://tiny.cc/OMIS