Getting boots on the ground is the key to success in Italian market
Two months after Italy's fraught general election, the IMF's World Economic Outlook delivered positive economic news for the country. The report indicated that Italy's 2017 growth rate of 1.5pc was its fastest since 2010, with growth projected to remain stable this year.
On the back of that, sectors such as life sciences and medtech are presenting strong opportunities for Irish exporters - particularly in the context of Brexit.
To support exporters targeting these opportunities, Minister for Trade Pat Breen led a mission that included 18 Irish companies to Italy in April. Fifteen companies visited a specialist medtech event and a further three attended a procurement conference in Rome.
The Minister visited the Rome Talent Garden (TAG) digital incubator and met Enterprise Ireland-backed company City Wonders, founded by Italian entrepreneur Simone Gozzi.
The broad Italian sector encompassing life sciences and medtech continues to flourish. It is currently valued at €25.2bn. With 10pc of that value reserved for investment, Irish companies have an addressable market of €2bn Enterprise Ireland-supported companies are winning in the market, increasing life sciences exports to Italy by 147pc to €65m in 2017.
Last month's medtech event took place in Mirandola in the Modena region, known as Italy's Silicon Valley specialising in medtech. Modena is home to more than 100 medtech companies. At the event, Irish companies such as Anecto, Synecco and Statistica Medica had an opportunity to gauge the market and network with potential partners. Opportunities for Irish life sciences companies are particularly strong in the drug development, manufacturing, packaging and regulatory sub-sectors.
Galway-based Anecto, which offers product and packaging testing, are enjoying success in Italy. David Morrissey, sales manager at Anecto, said: "The opportunity to meet clients in Italy has generated significant leads for us. We've seen exponential growth there in recent years. Irish companies looking to expand in Europe should look to Italy as a potential market."
Brexit is also generating opportunities for Irish companies interested in entering the Italian market. Research carried out by the UK Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply in 2017 reported that 46pc of European businesses expect to reduce their reliance on UK suppliers.
Fifty senior Italian procurement officers attended an Enterprise Ireland conference held at the Irish embassy in Rome, seeking to source alternatives to existing UK suppliers. Key themes discussed included the impact of Brexit on the supply chains of Italian companies, opportunities for partnership, and Ireland's commitment to the European market. Sean O'Dwyer, president of the Irish Institute of Purchasing & Materials Management (IIPMM) and board member of the International Federation of Purchasing and Supply Management (IFPSM) delivered a keynote presentation to the Italian audience.
To win opportunities in Italy, Irish companies should take a long-term partnership approach. Taking time to build relationships with clients is essential to securing trust, while having a local presence with 'boots on the ground' is a distinct advantage.
Italian companies are impressed by Irish companies which deliver innovative products and services that have been developed with high levels of R&D and can be integrated with their own offerings.
As the Italian market is highly networked and regionally focused, recommendations from Italian companies carry significant weight during negotiations.
Enterprise Ireland's Milan office helps Irish companies to facilitate visits to Italy.
Pre-visit and in-market supports, such as identification of potential partners and securing reference sites, are included in the package, enabling companies to meet the right clients and create a presence with true local resonance.
Paul Maguire is manager for Italy, Morocco & Algeria at Enterprise Ireland
Sunday Indo Business