Irish digital disruptors see Benelux rewards
The Benelux region has adapted rapidly to the digital transformation that is reshaping almost every aspect of business. Efforts to grapple with the impact of technologies, such as big data and cloud computing, have created demand for solutions that are driving growth in key sectors, with opportunities for innovative Irish exporters.
Irish firms have been quick to embrace change, partly due to their long-standing experience of servicing multinationals. Our supply chain is flexible and adaptable, with, most importantly, a 'delivery mindset'. The experience Irish companies have gained developing solutions for global organisations has equipped them to compete in overseas markets with high export potential.
Some of our nearest neighbours offer just that potential.
Enterprise Ireland-backed companies that have pursued opportunities in the Benelux region have reported impressive growth.
At the recent Ambition Benelux event in Athlone, delegates heard how such companies joined the 'unicorn club', when in 2018, exports to the Netherlands by firms supported by Enterprise Ireland topped €1bn for the first time, with those to the wider region hitting €1.5bn.
That performance reflects the success of companies such as Cork's Over-C - which deploys an integrated digital platform providing transparency for all functions relating to the upkeep of high-footfall, high-risk public facilities, such as shopping centres, stadia and transit hubs, with operations in Amsterdam.
Over-C leveraged existing links with Dutch-owned client ScotRail when targeting the market. James Murphy, head of partnerships, told delegates: "I see the Netherlands as a gateway to the rest of Europe. The Netherlands are early software adopters, and Germany looks at the Netherlands and what works there, so it's good preparation for new markets."
Over-C's innovative software uses artificial intelligence, data and analytics to provide industry professionals with key insights for time-critical decision-making.
It has been operating in the Dutch market for two years, with customers including Facilicom, Trigion, Koopgoot, Plaza Nieuwegein Shopping Centre, and Wereldhave. Over-C is currently working with KPN to identify further opportunities through its customer base.
Another success story is Limerick's Azpiral, creator of the AzpiralPRO integrated real-time loyalty platform. After exploring opportunities in the market last year, sales director Kevin Nolan reported that it had just concluded a deal that will see its cloud-based solution positioned in 350 AVIA service stations in the Netherlands, representing 10pc of the market.
AVIA is an international leader in the European forecourt sector, with over 3,000 stations across 15 European countries. Nolan said he is "hopeful that being the first choice in loyalty software for international brands like Circle K, Gulf Oil, Spar and AVIA will present opportunities for Azpiral to continue to expand internationally".
The success of such companies demonstrates how welcoming the open economies of the Benelux region are to outside partners.
The Netherlands remains a logistics powerhouse, not only in physical goods but in data centres, with demand for cleantech build solutions also robust. Belgium ranks as Ireland's second-highest EU trading partner for exports. In 2017, Ireland exported €12.04bn in goods and services to the country.
Luxembourg, meanwhile, may be the second-smallest EU member state, but it remains a key global financial centre, offering Irish fintechs a readily accessible market.
The Benelux also acts as a valuable gateway to other eurozone markets; a region that offers access to 200 million potential customers within 800km, and to which Enterprise Ireland-backed companies exported €4bn last year.
Events such as Ambition Benelux are one element of Enterprise Ireland's Step into the Eurozone campaign, which supports Irish companies at each stage of their market discovery journey.
Built around five steps, the programme assists with everything from scoping, assessing and validating new market opportunities, to acquiring funding for activities, such as recruiting graduates with relevant language skills.
With Nolan reporting that it took Azpiral 12 months to finalise its big deal in the Netherlands, these supports are hugely valuable for helping to sustain the investment of management time and direct costs behind successful market entry.
For more information, visit globalambition.ie/steps/
Patrick Torrekens is head of Enterprise Ireland Benelux
Sunday Indo Business