By Clara Conti
The perspective that I provide as I write this article is one of an entrepreneur. I’ve attended several TandemNSI events and met entrepreneurs who are interested in doing business with government organizations and heard them talk about the expense, uncertainty, time intensity and politics involved in doing so. At the same TandemNSI events, I’ve heard level executives from government organizations talk about their desire to engage entrepreneurial companies and the need to fix the hurdles they know are present. It seems that the chasm has to do with a lack of resources on both sides of this equation.
The State of Virginia has a program called Virginia Leaders in Export Trade (VALET) which is designed to help Virginia-based companies expand into International markets. Virginia benefits economically when its companies are successful. What the program does really well is to provide a two year business acceleration program for 25 qualifying companies to develop their international business plans, hone their products and establish themselves in a foreign country. The program employs a network of Trade Managers who guide companies through the program. It also coordinates “Trade Missions” which are intense, well-orchestrated, guided business trips to foreign countries where companies meet potential partners and customers. Other important resources made available to the 25 qualifying companies include market research, business licensing, introductions, cultural advice, access to relevant publications and business mentoring. It also provided access to IP attorneys, marketing firms, accountants and international banking experts.
I had experience with the the VALET program when I was hired to implement a reseller program for Manassas-based Tracen Technologies. In Tracen’s case, they were aware that they had a market opportunity in Australia but needed help thinking through pricing, products and partners. The VALET program gave them the runway they needed. Tracen has just “graduated” but are well on their way with one reseller already established in Australia. The VALET Program was instrumental in identifying and vetting potential partners in the UK and Australia and in providing logistical support for the company’s highly successful mini-roadshow in Australia.
I think there’s a lot to be learned from Virginia’s VALET program when supporting young, local companies with cool technologies and great ideas. But these companies don’t have deep pockets or vast resources to help them navigate through “cultural” and business realities so there’s a safe environment for both parties at the table. The guided trade missions and mentoring programs used here provides a model that should be experimented with since working with our own government agencies can require some translation.