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From live cattle to tech – 60 years of Irish enterprise in Germany

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James McCarthy, co-founder of food ordering software firm Flipdish, which is thriving in Germany. Photo: Conor McCabe Photography

James McCarthy, co-founder of food ordering software firm Flipdish, which is thriving in Germany. Photo: Conor McCabe Photography

A car using the technology of Cubic Telecom, which has been a success story in the German speaking market

A car using the technology of Cubic Telecom, which has been a success story in the German speaking market

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James McCarthy, co-founder of food ordering software firm Flipdish, which is thriving in Germany. Photo: Conor McCabe Photography

Live cattle and sewing machines were Ireland’s main exports to Germany when Enterprise Ireland’s predecessor, Córas Tráchtála, first opened an office in Dusseldorf in 1962, with total exports then amounting to £5m in Irish punts (€6.34m).

As the office this year marks its 60th anniversary, the export landscape is completely unrecognisable to that in 1962.

Indigenous Irish companies last year exported almost €2bn to the German-speaking markets of Germany, Austria and Switzerland, of which €1.4bn went to Germany.

This positive market result from 2021 represented an increase of 17pc on the previous year and was driven primarily by sales in high-tech construction, ICT, life sciences and industrial products and services.

In large part, this encouraging growth in the German market is due to the highly innovative products and services on offer from Irish firms.

Enterprise Ireland’s office in Germany also covers the German-speaking region, which includes the neighbouring countries of Austria and Switzerland

German customers appreciate and value innovation, so are willing to pay for it. This approach, combined with the size of the German market, makes it a stable, resilient and reliable place to do business.

Among the Irish firms thriving in Germany are medical device firm Aerogen, in-car connectivity leaders Cubic Telecom and the food ordering software company Flipdish, along with Ireland’s Eye knitwear and EI Electronics, who are a market leader in smoke alarms here.

There is also significant opportunity for Irish firms in Germany when it comes to high-tech construction, particularly on projects such as pharmaceutical facilities, semiconductor fabrication plants and data centres.

In fact, Irish companies employ 34,000 people in Germany, showing that Irish firms are not just exporting to this market, but also creating true partnerships and value here.

Of course, the success of Irish exporters in Germany in recent decades is also due to the dismantling of trade barriers.

Back in 1962, ambitious Irish firms had to contend with import quotas and currency risks, whereas free trade and a shared currency has eased cross-border sales.

The EU is also enabling even further opportunity across Europe with its €750bn NextGenerationEU plan, which seeks to build a more resilient Europe.

Making use of its share of this funding, Germany has committed €25.6bn in grants for recovery and resilience projects, with 42pc going to climate initiatives and 52pc allocated for digital transformation projects.

Irish companies can directly and indirectly access this funding, by tendering directly for projects, by partnering with German companies or by supplying German companies that are carrying out funded projects.

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Germany isn’t a market for opportunistic sales, however.

German customers like to deal with suppliers who are committed to the market, and this ultimately means in some sectors staff with German-language skills and cultural appreciation, who can pay regular visits to the region or maintain a physical presence there if possible.

While sales cycles can be long, the process is worthwhile, given the opportunity of long-term value offered to those selling into Germany. Remember that Germany is an export champion, so exports to Germany mean global exports.

Germany is an export champion, so exports to Germany mean global exports.

Enterprise Ireland’s office in Germany also covers the German-speaking region, which includes the neighbouring countries of Austria and Switzerland, both of which are markets that have their own particular and unique characteristics.

Many of those have found Switzerland an excellent export market, both in its own right and to act as a springboard into Germany.

Swiss clients are more likely to look externally for suppliers initially and Irish companies have built a strong reputation there for quality, reliability and value, especially in the areas of ICT, engineering and life sciences.

Austria, meanwhile, provides specific opportunities for Irish companies in certain industrial sectors and construction.

Overall, the region offers a number of options and routes for Irish companies to start or scale their export journey. The office may be 60 years old but the journey for Irish exporters is only starting.

Manus Rooney is Germany/Austria/Switzerland Country Manager at Enterprise Ireland.

For more information on German market entry, visit https://www.enterprise-ireland.com/en/Export-Assistance/International-Office-Network-Services-and-Contacts/Germany.html


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