'The potential rewards far outweighed the risks of exporting'
As more companies in Northern Ireland look into their export potential, we speak to The Lava Group's CEO, Gareth Morrison, who has set his sights on Australia and Canada for the next move with its biometric software solutions and connected health products
When we first started to properly consider exporting as the next step for our company the question we had to address first was: "Do we really want to do this?"
Not only would our outgoing expenses increase rapidly, we would face cultural issues and language barriers, there would be time differences to factor in, we wouldn't know the markets as well as we know our own and we would join many other companies trading at the mercy of fluctuating exchange rates.
At the end of this discussion we were still left with a resounding "yes" in response. Aside from everything we had to be realistic and see that Northern Ireland and Ireland represents such a small percentage of the market that we can tap into. We want to explore these opportunities and grow our company. In our opinion the risks were far outweighed by the potential rewards.
Our first stop was to speak to Invest NI who supported us to commission a report looking at the best locations for us to target first. We also appointed a business development executive to carry out market research, identify trends, look at competitors and assess demand.
If there is one thing that we are learning about export it is that you need to be very strategic in your approach.
We already know that we will simply find no demand for some of our products in certain markets. Take Bahrain as an example. We have recently received funding from the Connected Health Innovation Centre to develop a behavioural analysis device to monitor for signs of agitation in patients with autism. However, in a country like Bahrain, where the behavioural issues of children often go unaddressed, we know that parents are not actively seeking solutions of this nature.
When looking at the locations we have had to consider whether that country would have the budget to spend on a product. We have had to ask if the residents have disposable income for a connected health device or if the government has the budget to install innovative monitoring solutions in high security facilities.
We have also had to consider the competition within those markets, looking specifically at the number of indigenous producers and FDI companies based there who could be supplying potential clients of ours. Likewise if we will be the first one into that country, our marketing may need to take on a far wider purpose.
We have now narrowed our strongest options to Australia and Canada and in fact we have just returned from our first trade mission to Australia, which has given us greater knowledge of that market.
Both countries share similar currencies to us, they have similar systems and speak English. They represent large markets for our products and the companies have the correct budget sizes to support a profitable exchange.
At this stage we are in the process of finalising an agreement with a distributor in Australia and have secured another relationship with a company in the UK for one of our monitoring products. Progress is also being made in Canada, where initial contact has been made with potential partners.
Everything is looking very positive and we are hopeful that we will have our first signed export contract before the end of 2016.