By @SimonCocking. Interesting interview with Kate Lyons Market Executive at Enterprise Ireland Madrid – Where innovation means business.

What is your background briefly?

Prior to working in Enterprise Ireland (EI) I worked in the Central Bank of Ireland. My background is in Commerce International with an MSc in International Management. I came out to Spain last year and have been working on a number of different sectors here in the Madrid office.

What was your interest in taking this posting?

Enterprise Ireland is a great place to work and the experience you get working with all kinds of sectors would be hard to find anywhere else. Working in an Enterprise Ireland international office offers the best of both worlds in my eyes, in terms of working with international and home grown businesses. In my case, you’re not living in Ireland yet you have a close connection with Ireland and all things Irish, and having started learning Spanish nearly 12 years ago I’m getting the chance to put all of that into practice and use it on a daily basis!

How long have you been in your current role? What are the best aspects of the job?

I started in EI in October last year and after a few weeks in HQ moved over the Madrid. My role involves providing support and market knowledge to companies exporting or thinking about entering the Spanish and Portuguese markets and looking at companies’ value propositions, determining the best sales channels for them and assisting them with initiating contact. For me, working across a variety of sectors and also the fact that you are contributing to team Ireland are some of the best aspects of the job. Assisting Irish companies doing business abroad successfully and expanding their reach is so rewarding. The job is hugely interesting and it’s always different, you never know what each day will bring! We recently brought 10 client companies to meet with the telecommunications giant Telefónica to put their products in front of their buyers, something which can be extremely difficult for an individual company to do. For me, taking part in initiatives like that where you get to see the tangible results of Enterprise Ireland’s work is fantastic.

How was 2016, what are the plans for EI in country for 2017?

2016 was a good year and although events like Brexit and the US presidential election dominated the media, Irish business delivered results and surpassed targets all the same. From an EI perspective, collective employment surpassed 200,000 for the first time and female entrepreneurship is on the up which I love seeing. Investments in female-led start-ups went from 8% in 2012 to 28% in 2016.

Given that the UK is usually the first port of call for first time exporters, Brexit does add an extra challenge to our export focused companies but that is where EI will be focusing on ensuring that the Irish offering is well positioned regardless of the outcome of Brexit negotiations and this is where overseas offices like ours come in.

The Global Ambition campaign was launched in 2016 and aims to support and inspire entrepreneurs to think globally and beyond the UK markets. The 2017-2020 strategy was launched this year and builds on the idea of global ambition to ‘Build Scale, Expand Reach’. As part of this a major focus will be on increasing exports to the Eurozone. To achieve these targets, EI Madrid will be working on carrying out events, inward buyer visits to Ireland and developing opportunities to stimulate demand for Irish products in the Spanish and Portuguese markets for 2017 and for the next few years. In particular we will be looking at developing the agri-business, pet food and travel tech sectors while continuing to work on more established sectors here like life-sciences and telecommunications.

How big is the Irish presence there, which companies are doing well?

The Irish presence in Spain is growing, and more and more companies are seeing Spain as a target market. Many companies are looking outside of the UK to diversify their exports and many are looking within Europe to do so. Although it presents its own challenges, the Spanish market can be a huge opportunity for Irish clients with well-defined product offerings and a clear value proposition. Of course, you can’t mention them all and without singling out any in particular, some of the companies doing brilliantly here are Ding, Cartrawler and Portwest. Ding is an online mobile phone top up service that enables individuals living or working abroad to instantly top up the mobile phones of family and friends back home and has been very successful both globally and in the Spanish market. Cartrawler is a travel technology platform that connects customers of OTA’s or airlines for example, with car rental, rail connections and private transfers. Portwest designs, manufactures and supplies safety workwear and protective clothing with an extensive product range. All three have a large global presence and have been doing really well in the Spanish market. They are also all very different which showcases the wide range of companies across a variety of sectors doing well in their fields here.

What are the particular challenges of doing business here?

Spain is quite a price sensitive market in comparison to Ireland and Spain hasn’t yet emerged totally from the crisis however the economy is recovering. Unemployment levels remain high at around 19% and youth unemployment in particular is extremely high. However having said that, there are opportunities in Spain for Irish companies, as our client companies are proving every day. The Spanish and Irish tend to get on well and for Irish companies offering high quality innovative products and services, Spain is an attractive market.

What tips would you give to companies looking to do business there?

Do your research! As with any market, research is key and a thorough market validation should be the first port of call. From understanding cultural differences to things like the degree of autonomy the different Spanish communities have, it is crucial to know the background. Spain, for example, has 17 different regions and depending on the sector, business can be conducted by region or on a national level. Building relationships is so important and as many of our client companies would tell you, coming out to visit buyers face to face and maintaining that personal contact goes a long way in doing that. It is rare to find businesses without some form of English capability however depending on the sector, having Spanish or a translator can be essential at times. Unless in global sectors like telecoms or pharma where English is recognised as the international operating language, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and be prepared. Doing business in Spain can take time and slower decision making is something to be prepared for as well as things like the fact that sending information or introductions by email may not always reach the intended target. Being aware of the differences between markets is always an advantage and to start off on the right foot in Spain or any overseas market it is essential to be prepared.


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