On October 24, 2014, the Global Innovation Forum and Level39 hosted a workshop for startups and small businesses looking to engage internationally in partnership with Intuit, Fried Frank, Techstars, Select USA, UKTI and UCL. The forum brought together globally-minded startups and small businesses, technology-enablers and public policymakers to highlight how businesses and entrepreneurs can benefit from engaging in foreign markets.  Participants discussed how the U.S and UK governments can assist in entrepreneurs’ overseas journeys, and explored what other governments are doing around the world to encourage and attract global entrepreneurs.

The Program

See who spoke, watch the discussion online, and connect over social media

Welcome remarks

Jake Colvin, Executive Director, Global Innovation Forum @GlobaliForum; Alastair Moore, Senior Manager Accelerator Programmes, UCL Advances @latticecut; Eric Van der Kleij, Head of Level 39 @Ericvanderkleij

Identifying the challenges and opportunities for globally-minded startups and small businesses

Jo Bertram, General Manager, Uber UK @jo_bertram; Katie Cannon, Retail & Export Manager, Sugru @sugru; Danny Keir, Director, Artist & Label Services, Sound Diplomacy @dannykeir; Alasdair McGowan, Director, Government Relations UK, eBay Inc @ebayinc; moderated by Daniel Glazer, Co-lead, Technology Transactions Group, Fried Frank @IPTransactions 

The Transatlantic Startup: Understanding the role of governments

Keith Moses, Tech City Adviser – UK Trade & Investment @TechitGlobal; John Breidenstine, Minister Counselor, Commercial Service, U.S. Embassy London @JDBreidenstine; Tak Lo, Director, Techstars London @tak_lo; Bethany Koby, Founder and CEO, Technology Will Save Us @bethanykoby; moderated by Lindsey Grossman, Senior Manager, Global Public Policy, Intuit @ltgrossman

Networking lunch and keynote conversation

Sherry Coutu, entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist @scoutu in conversation with Ravi Mattu, Technology, Media and Telecoms Editor, Financial Times @ravmattu 

Lessons from London

Hear from participants about the opportunities they see and the challenges they face internationally, advice for managing life as a global brand in the digital age, and the role of public policy in the global success of young companies.

Meet Sugru

Katie Cannon, who heads retail and export for Sugru – a Hackney startup that launched a groundbreaking mouldable glue onto the global DIY scene in 2010 – discusses global shipping challenges, the importance of data analytics and Sugru’s experience being global from the get go.

Meet Intuit

Lindsey Grossman, Senior Manager, Global Public Policy for Intuit, talks about Intuit’s support to startups and small businesses, and why governments and global entrepreneurs ought to get to know each other better.

Meet SelectUSA Tech

John Breidenstine, Minister Counselor, Commercial Service, U.S. Embassy London, describes how the U.S. government seeks to enable small companies to participate in international markets, and the role of trade agreements in enabling global startups.

Meet Technology Will Save Us

Bethany Koby, Founder and CEO of Technology Will Save Us – a business that instigates 21st century learning through DIY Gadget kits for every day life – discusses balancing overseas demand with local impact and highlights her global regulatory and customs pain-points. 

Meet Sherry Coutu

Sherry Coutu, an entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist, offers advice on finding the right communities and partners and the huge opportunity that exists to make it easier for UK startups to go cross-border.

Meet Fried Frank

Daniel Glazer, Co-lead of the Technology Transactions Group for Fried Frank offers 5 tips for startups looking to expand internationally, from protecting your intellectual property globally to offering country-specific terms and conditions.

What We Learned

Takeaways from the discussion.

The international opportunity is immediate

We were global from the word go, and it’s an amazing power of e-commerce: The word-of-mouth and social media support that a brand can receive early to get out to its consumer base wherever it may be. We’ve been growing that e-commerce environment, now reaching about 500,000 people in 157 countries.” – Katie Cannon, Retail & Export Manager, Sugru

“We launched with interns packing kits on my kitchen table. 50 percent of our kits are sold in the U.S. and we’re now in 127 countries. We’re in shops and online marketplaces as well…We’re playing in this really scary space where we can’t fulfill demand.” – Bethany Koby, Founder and CEO, Technology Will Save Us

“Everyone is an MNC now. Everyone. Even if you’re a one man shop you’re an MNC.” – Tak Lo, Director, Techstars London


“The UK is quite a small economy. If you think of Europe, that gives you 500 million people to think about. Think about UK as a good ecosystem to start, but then let’s rip through the other 27 countries… There’s a huge opportunity to make it easier for UK startups to understand how to go cross-border.” – Sherry Coutu, entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist

“We’ve seen a shift in international trade, which used to be the preserve of multinationals. We’ve seen the emergence of the micro-multinational.” – Alasdair McGowan, Director, Government Relations UK, eBay Inc

“The discussion in the startup community is about being born global. You really have to look outside to other markets.” – Alastair Moore, Senior Manager Accelerator Programmes, UCL Advances

Technology can enable global startups

“Look at shipping carefully. If you can get a good shipping provider at a good rate, and they’re reliable, it can make a huge difference. It’s all very well having next generation broadband, but if you’re relying on a postal service that is sometimes from a previous generation, it’s an awful lot harder. It just means you have endless customer painpoints. People constantly calling up customer service asking ‘where’s my package, why hasn’t it turned up yet?’ ” – Alasdair McGowan, Director, Government Relations UK, eBay Inc

“We generally deliver files — music and images — that’s kind of tough to send. So we use music delivery technologies like Soundcloud and Dropbox. We have partnerships in Berlin and Barcelona, so we use Google Documents, which you can edit real time. Our accounting software is Intuit Quickbooks. Wherever we are we can update our accounting and our invoicing, which is very useful as a smaller international business. We look at these technologies that have been able to deliver effectively to the industry.” – Danny Keir, Director, Artist & Label Services, Sound Diplomacy

“We do a lot of videoconferences using Zoom and Google Hangouts. It makes a real difference to be able to see people instead of talking on the phone.” – Jo Bertram, General Manager, Uber UK

“[Taking steps to protect your Intellectual Property] is something to plan for in terms of cash flow and advice.” – Katie Cannon, Retail & Export Manager, Sugru

Young companies face challenges doing business cross-border

“Shipping is a huge challenge, particularly for SMEs…If you’re dependent on national carriers, you may get good delivery in the UK, but as soon as the package crosses the border, tracking systems don’t talk with one another.” – Katie Cannon, Retail & Export Manager, Sugru

“Countries will insist on a local data storage presence as a condition for doing business in that country. We face an issue in Turkey for instance. We’ve been encouraged by the support we have received from local Turkish officials and the U.S. Department of Commerce.” – Alasdair McGowan, Director, Government Relations UK, eBay Inc

“Payment is another significant challenge. You obviously want to get paid – it’s pretty rubbish if you don’t.” – Katie Cannon, Retail & Export Manager, Sugru

“European governments are highly invested in startups in a way that our friends across the pond aren’t. but the real issue here is the extent of market failure here in Europe that requires that intervention.” – Keith Moses, Tech City Adviser – UK Trade & Investment 

“Customs is delightfully complicated.  We found out the customs code for our particular product changed the day before [we shipped to the United States]. We don’t have a particular group focusing on regulations or customs. It’s our sales manager or me. It’s navigating all of these things that are constantly in flux – customs and regulations – that rise to my attention.” – Bethany Koby, Founder and CEO, Technology Will Save Us

“There are issues between transferring data between the United States and EU. It’s definitely a live issue and something worth thinking about. How you share and manage and process that data is particularly important. ” – Alasdair McGowan, Director, Government Relations UK, eBay Inc

“We’ve actually shut down service to Russia, China and Brazil because of shipping challenges.” – Katie Cannon, Retail & Export Manager, Sugru

“One of the challenges we have is that transport legislation is not just different on a country level but by city. That’s partly why we have a local team in each market to make sure they understand local regulations and engage with regulators.” – Jo Bertram, General Manager, Uber UK 

Governments and regulations matter to startups going global

“The US and EU are negotiating [the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement]. A lot of people have the misperception that this is all about big companies. Frankly, this is really going to benefit small companies. The big companies have the wherewithal and staff to help them deal with these challenges. It’s the small businesses that are more negatively impacted by regulations and nontariff barriers.” – John Breidenstine, Minister Counselor, Commercial Service, U.S. Embassy London

“The UK government has been very tech friendly and tends to be open to free trade. But the challenge is that the UK is one of 28 member states. The challenge is how do we build alliances with other like minded nations. That’s the challenge for the UK going forward.” – Alasdair McGowan, Director, Government Relations UK, eBay Inc

“[Regarding how governments can be helpful] I think it’s introductions and community. What has been the most useful for us, has been talking to other entrepreneurs. The kinds of things that we are able to share and learn really fast is invaluable.” – Bethany Koby, Founder and CEO, Technology Will Save Us

“From the outside, an organization like UKTI can seem impenetrable. Essentially, what UKTI is looking to do in concert with Innovate UK, Tech UK, and others is to offer tiered levels of services to businesses at different stages of development. We are looking to be accessible to startups through branded trade missions. We created the great tech expedition to offer a platform to companies who are looking to access international markets for the first time.” – Keith Moses, Tech City Adviser – UK Trade & Investment

“In terms of UKTI, this word startups is used very broadly. It feels like a lot of the support is for 30-50 plus people, instead of 5-20. That’s a really different stage in growth and the challenges that business have to face. The things that we’re facing right now are faster. We know less. I haven’t felt like the government services have been about those needs.” – Bethany Koby, Founder and CEO, Technology Will Save Us

“One of the things you find with the internet is that it’s fantastic at disintermediation. The one thing you know is that the middle man will start to scream…We’ve seen this in resale, in France for example, with an auctioneers’ body insisting that we have an auctioneer’s license, which is utter madness. If you’re one of those businesses that is likely to fly in the face of established interests, I’d encourage you to join a trade association and hire some outside counsel.” – Alasdair McGowan, Director, Government Relations UK, eBay Inc

“Babelverse was founded in Greece by a Frenchman and an Englishman. We provide quick access to interpreters. Uber for language. We had this great idea and were accepted into Startup Chile. The process was streamlined by the Chilean Government. They gave us access to a grant of $40,000. Chile was a homogenous society that was importing people from around the world to create a startup culture.” – Josef Dunne, Co-Founder of Babelverse

Understanding local markets is critical

“How do you get to Germany? You ask 5 other people who just went there how they did it. If someone is about to embark on a journey that I’ve been on, it takes 2 seconds to say ‘you should talk to this person.’” – Sherry Coutu, entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist

“Looking the U.S. you can be terribly relaxed in your perception of it. Actually, Spanish in America is emerging very fast. And if you look at North America as a continent, you get into French with Canada. So we’re looking for a trilingual solution for the market.” – Katie Cannon, Retail & Export Manager, Sugru

“In each of our cities we have a local team on the ground. One of the first challenges is finding that new team and people who knows those cities… Given that transportation is so central and knowing about the city is so central, that local team is important.” – Jo Bertram, General Manager, Uber UK

“Having a full understanding on the ground in our territories is invaluable. Even in a young company, taking those interactions and doing the research around it and giving them the initiative is important.”- Danny Keir, Director, Artist & Label Services, Sound Diplomacy

“If you look at a jurisdiction like Italy, it’s very cash driven and based on face to face transactions. Understanding that culture is important…If we’re an ecommerce brand only, we’re not going to penetrate Germany. You have to have some nuance around local markets to understand why my numbers are so low in Germany.” – Katie Cannon, Retail & Export Manager, Sugru

“I would caution again about using a standard playbook. We made that mistake in China. We thought we could just roll out another eBay site and that didn’t work.” – Alasdair McGowan, Director, Government Relations UK, eBay Inc

Perceptions of the U.S. visa process are poor

“A big challenge is visas. The U.S. is currently stuck in the entrepreneur visa quagmire, so the fact that there is an entrepreneur visa is great. But it’s the pace that makes it difficult for entrepreneurs. It can be a very hairy situation where people don’t know if they’re going to be kicked out.” – Tak Lo, Director, Techstars London

“We generally stay away from the U.S. we have a lot of horror stories about trying to take UK artists to America. Visas are an absolute nightmare.  There’s a weird misunderstanding about the purpose of the artists are. If you’re a young male without a family and rents in a city like London, you give [government officials] a lot of reasons to say no.  If you’re a middle aged male with a home and family, that’s different.” – Danny Keir, Director, Artist & Label Services, Sound Diplomacy

“There was a lot of scaremongering around the visa process. We haven’t faced into the issue of going across the Atlantic [yet].” – Katie Cannon, Retail & Export Manager, Sugru

Global data and privacy issues can be complicated

“We’re starting to think about [privacy] a lot more now as we scale.   Our focus is not solely on education, it’s on shops and schools, because we think that learning happens in and outside of the classroom.  As we begin to build digital and physical tools, privacy and those kinds of regulations are increasingly going to become a huge challenge, or opportunity, for us. We’re not there yet, but I can see them on the horizon.” – Bethany Koby, Founder and CEO, Technology Will Save Us

“Startups need smart data protection policies that build consumer confidence in the digital economy and create a framework in which even the smallest firms can innovate. Policy-makers should avoid failing into the trap of thinking growth needs to be traded for privacy, or vice versa.” – Lindsey Grossman, Senior Manager, Global Public Policy, Intuit

“Open data is a basic government objective in the U.K., and there is a significant drive to open up public data to entrepreneurs.  But global cultures have varying views of personal data.  On our last trip to Brazil, we discovered that Brazilians don’t attach much value to their personal data, but there is significant political pressure to impose localization requirements.  So this whole issue is replete with risks for startups, and they should seek advice as they enter into markets which may have onerous data privacy policies.” – Keith Moses, Tech City Adviser, UK Trade & Investment

“I sit on an amazing data set…all the way through to conversion rate opportunities.  There’s moments when the analytics can pull you all the way through, and to the U.S. and Canada quite simplistically, but when you look across Europe, you have to have some nuance around those markets to say “why are our German numbers so low,” because actually, Germans don’t trust web commerce.  It’s all about having a mix of the great analytics that your digital presence is driving for you, plus some good on-the-ground research.  Keeping those things in balance is really important as you’re emerging as an e-commerce platform.” – Katie Cannon, Retail & Export Manager, Sugru


Explore the social media conversation that took place around the forum.