Uncertainty is said to be the enemy of business. So, in an age where volatility, disruption, complexity and ambiguity are par for the course, where can Irish companies look for certainty?
The answer may be closer than we think. The EU is the single-largest economy and largest trading bloc in the world. With transparent rules and regulations and a secure legal investment framework, the EU also ranks first in both inbound and outbound international investments, and its services markets are very much open to other member states.
Home to three of the G7 nations, it's the top trading partner for 80 countries and will be home to over 440 million consumers even post-Brexit. It provides Irish companies with a market that is free from tariffs and customs obligations; where there is free movement of people, capital, goods and services; and where all members share common regulatory and technical specifications for goods.
Business risks are further minimised with the shared currency of the 19 members of the eurozone. This year, Enterprise Ireland launched a strategy for 2017-2020 aimed at increasing client exports into the eurozone by €2bn a year. This would represent one of the most significant shifts in exports by Irish-owned companies into continental Europe - a move seen as particularly important in the context of Brexit. Priority sectors include construction, engineering, life science, medtech and food.
With two prongs - 'Eurozone Start' and 'Eurozone Scale' - the strategy aims to support companies on their export journey from market opportunity awareness, research and capability assessment to product localisation, market entry and growth. Enterprise Ireland's six offices in the eurozone are identifying new market and sector opportunities for clients, and the plan is being supported by increased assistance for companies, including market access grants, business innovation funding, market opportunity reviews, management development programmes and access to trade missions/market study visits.
Our #GlobalAmbition campaign showcases companies achieving success in the region and is backed by market guides, information, sector workshops and insights. Enterprise Ireland also plans to launch 'Advantage Ireland' in-market digital communication campaigns in key markets to stimulate awareness among buyers of Irish innovation and capabilities.
While eurozone opportunities are immense, there is a need to recognise the region's diversity in terms of GDP levels, industry strengths, language and culture. Research is essential to understand the dynamics of individual markets, their scale, drivers, existing players and where your own company's offering might fit within that landscape. Companies need to be laser sharp in identifying the product areas or sectors where their business can have the most impact, and is likely that what differentiates your offering in specific eurozone markets will be different from your value proposition back in Ireland.
To truly maximise the eurozone opportunity, we believe that Irish business leaders need to embed second and third languages in their companies. This is key to building the capability to really engage in detailed business and technical issues.
It's also about demonstrating commitment and truly understanding the customer. A common misconception is that we should speak customers' languages simply to be understood. But in reality it will enable you to gain better market intelligence, understanding who your local and international competitors are (and positioning yourself accordingly) and being more aware of the cultural nuances of conducting business in that country.
Building a technical and business team with linguistic and cultural fluency is not something that happens overnight, but Enterprise Ireland's local offices in the eurozone can help you on this journey.
Leo McAdams is Enterprise Ireland's director of international sales and partnering