Introduction: The New Global Opportunity

by | Jul 6, 2015

Technology is transforming the nature of the international marketplace, creating new opportunities for even the smallest businesses to be global brands from Day One.

Nowhere is this transformation more apparent than Europe, where entrepreneurs are creating innovative new businesses everywhere from Limerick, Ireland to Sofia, Bulgaria, which are rooted in local communities but infused with a global mindset.

Even businesses built to serve local needs suddenly find themselves pulled into the global marketplace on the strength of an innovative offering and the global reach of digital media. Following its launch and a couple of well-placed mentions in the press, East London-based Technology Will Save Us began seeing demand from markets around the world even though its initial focus was on serving the British maker and education communities.

This report, which profiles ten entrepreneurs who are starting and growing global businesses from Europe, is an effort to get to know a slice of the community of startups and small businesses who are leveraging digital technologies to build international brands and to understand the opportunities and challenges they face.

Strengthening businesses and diversifying economic opportunity

A common refrain from the entrepreneurs surveyed is that access to the global marketplace helps strengthen their businesses and increase economic opportunity.

Bobby Miloev, co-founder of online custom tailor Dragon Inside, based in Sofia, Bulgaria, notes that “we have customers all over Europe, but our strongest market is the United States. Virtually every interaction we have with a customer or a supplier is international.”

Ninety percent of the client base for Ireland-based Yellowschedule, an online patient scheduling and payment tool, resides in the United States. Technology Will Save Us exports half of the inventory it manufactures in Hackney.

More broadly, data from online marketplace eBay suggest that, “it is now possible to run a growing pan-European and global business from Europe’s more rural, remote, and sometimes less economically wealthy areas.”

Analyzing the communities of sellers that operate on its platform, eBay found that smaller regions in the EU – places such as Languedoc in France, Lancashire in the UK and Niederbayern in Germany – were relatively more dynamic for digitally-enabled small businesses than the likes of urban centers Ile-de-France, Inner London and Cologne.

This economic opportunity stems from new innovations built on top of the global Internet that permit entrepreneurs to improve their productivity and minimize the challenges of engaging in the international marketplace.

E-commerce platforms, payment mechanisms, logistics services, search engines, translation tools, website and app analytics, communications tools, cloud computing infrastructure, advertising platforms, and other intermediary services help to diminish formerly significant hurdles such as payments, shipping, financing, marketing, global accessibility, infrastructure maintenance, information asymmetries, and language that would have deterred startups from global markets just a decade ago.

Entrepreneurs point to a variety of global technologies that they use to operate on a global basis and collaborate with internal teams and external partners, customers and suppliers, from Google Drive to PayPal to Slack, a service that combines messaging, archiving and search to enable teams to communicate more effectively.

Unbabel, a startup profiled in this report, is doing its part, providing an innovative service that uses technology to aid human translators, helping to address the friction language poses to international business and communication.

Eva-Dewi Pangestian Harahap of Nauli, a Munich-based artisan e-commerce shop, highlights another benefit of the Internet for her global startup: It delivers resources to help her and her co-founder improve their business skills.

She explains that the Internet is “a place where we learn a lot. We’re not from a business background. Through various online channels, we’ve learned…about marketing and selling products around the world.”

The promise of the Internet is that it democratizes access to the global marketplace, encouraging stronger businesses and communities across Europe. In the past, there was a sense that, to be successful, a startup had to pack up for California to be closer to advisors, investors and other entrepreneurs.

While several of the startups profiled in this report have set up offices in the United States, many of the entrepreneurs emphasized their strong desire to build their brands from Europe and to maintain their presence and focus on the communities in which they grew up.

“It is harder and it is slower, but it is possible to do business outside Europe while remained based in Europe,” suggests Yellowschedule’s co-founder Martina Skelly.

Bethany Koby, CEO of Technology Will Save Us, adds, “we are based in the UK and we want to grow a business in the UK. We like being in East London.”