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Business Sans Frontières

Robert Sanders and Laura Lecci show us how EBN International is helping European companies enter new markets around the globe

In our increasingly connected world people and ideas can easily move from one country or continent to another, and news and information travel fast as distances are shortened. Technology, research and innovation are overcoming borders as well, giving rise to all sorts of new business opportunities.

The reasons why companies are interested in ‘going global’ and entering international markets may vary, and at the point of entry different strategies may be employed, with different expectations and performance goals. Evidently, increasing revenue and profit is often a key goal, but boosting innovation potential is also desirable, as developing a client base internationally can support new product and service development.

Although, in general terms, internationalisation often refers to corporate players deploying strategies on a global scale, small companies can internationalise successfully with limited resources if they focus on the right opportunities.

Adopting this focused approach to global development can make companies potentially more successful, and offers routes to developing a larger client base and additional opportunities to expand. In order to create new partnerships and the opportunities they might generate, public and private initiatives are aiming to enhance international collaboration, and innovation actors are trying to attract or locate the best talent to global hotspots in their given sector. 

Growing pace

There is an increasing need therefore, to stimulate and support startups and SMEs that have the potential to grow fast internationally, so that they are not left behind by their peers and competitors.

The recent acceleration of globalisation offers a unique opportunity to collaborate on innovative business ideas being developed by entrepreneurs located all over the world.

EBN Membership now reflects this international dimension, and the network is a rich source of partnerships from many countries and regions. The EBN Secretariat regularly welcomes visiting foreign delegations, and we have organised study and innovation tours to destinations such as the US and China.

Whilst firmly anchored within Europe’s innovation ecosystem, EBN members and their client companies are actively seeking global opportunities and international business development.

EBN’s Internationalisation Service brings together a network of business incubation programmes that provide assistance to innovative companies under the support of incubators and cluster organisations.

EBN members are providing assistance to companies for their international expansion by offering easy and practical solutions from ‘smart take-off’ to ‘soft landing’. This ensures that businesses entering, or expanding into new markets are introduced more effectively and with lower risks. 

New international projects

To support our members’ soft landing programmes EBN has been scouting areas for funding opportunities via different organisations such as the EC and the World Bank. The EBN team has been promoting our members and developing initiatives in India, Brazil, the Middle East, Russia, and Southeast Asia.

At EBN we are entering a new phase in our international story with the acquisition of three strategic EC contracts that will offer EBN Members and their client companies a long-term platform of international connections into these three countries – the US, China and Brazil. EBN is a strategic partner in three new H2020 projects (that fall under the same call for proposals) and are very much aligned with EBN’s and the EU|BICs’ core business.

The challenge of this EC call is clear, “…to create a network of centres in the world's most dynamic and innovative countries and regions that will connect and support European researchers and entrepreneurs globally, in order to strengthen the position of Europe as a world leader in science, technology and innovation.”

It was appropriate therefore that EBN was invited to join the consortia addressing this challenge for the US, China and Brazil. The three Centres will be designed to help European companies and researchers to better access international partnerships in the three target countries. Let’s take a closer look at each initiative and the main services of each structure. 

CEBRABIC: Centre for Europe-Brazil Business and Innovation Cooperation 

The CEBRABIC network will support the creation of R&I&B opportunities for European organisations in Brazil, stimulating demand and cooperation. The Centre will not only provide support-based services (network, advice, training, etc.), but also technology-related services, leveraging the network of regional innovation hubs and external service providers and seeking linkages to the private industrial sector and to investors. This will enable CEBRABIC to address knowledge-intensive sectors, offering a service portfolio that corresponds to an integrated approach towards the innovation value chain that stimulates research-to-market collaborative projects.

The centre will be located in Sao Paolo and Brasilia in the first instance, and during the project lifetime five more regional hubs will be set up.

CEBRABIC aims at:

  • Creating research and business opportunities for European organisations in the Brazilian market 
  • Stimulating the demand for European technologically-oriented services in Brazil
  • Ensuring optimal conditions for a sustainable internationalisation of European research and business organisations to the Brazilian market
  • Encouraging cooperation among European and Brazilian research, innovation and business (R&I&B) organisations

The lead organisation on this project is IPK Fraunhofer.

ERICENA: European Research Innovation Centre of Excellence in China 

ERICENA is the European Research and Innovation Centre of Excellence in China, and will reinforce the leadership of Europe in research and innovation (R&I) by promoting European science, technology and innovation (STI) interests in China. It will connect and support entry of European researchers and entrepreneurs to the Chinese market. ERICENA will provide a wide range of services for its clients (European research and technology organisations, startups, SMEs and entrepreneurs) generating revenues through different services to achieve financial self-sustainability.

The first centre will be located in Beijing, and five regional hubs will follow.

The service portfolio of ERICENA intends to be comprehensive and diverse, addressing the needs and interests of its European clients in the Chinese market and maximising the benefits of their activities and presence in China. The service portfolio is structured into six main areas: 

  • Networking 
  • Advice and support on internationalisation 
  • Advocacy on responsible research and innovation 
  • Opportunities for workplace secondment and exchange
  •  Design and pilot of public/private funding mechanisms
  •  Promotion, awareness raising and capacity building

ERICENA will offer tailor-made services with an in-depth knowledge of the Chinese context, improving the understanding of the existing infrastructures and technological resources in China.

NearUS: Network for European Research and Innovation Acceleration in the US 

NearUS will establish the Network of Centres of European Research and Innovation as a central contact point for support to EU research and innovation actors (startups, SMEs, universities) seeking collaboration with and in the US.

The NearUS Network will include:

  •  One coordination ‘node’ in Europe (at EBN, Brussels)
  • One coordination ‘node’ in the US (at InBIA, Orlando) 
  • Two physical ‘landing hubs’: NearUS West Coast Hub in San Francisco Bay Area at the European American Enterprise Council; and NearUS East Coast Hub in Boston 
  • Five Associate Hubs across the USA, with plans to expand the NearUS network over four years

The network will be built on strong existing ties in both countries and will ensure access to EU organisations from all EU Member States and US actors from all over the US. A variety of services will be developed and proposed to customers (startups, companies, researchers) by the network during a pilot phase, then the centres and their pilot activity will be evaluated and the activity optimised where necessary so as to ensure the sustainable implementation after the project ends.

Services will target Research2Research, Research2Market and Business2Business cooperation, such as matchmaking opportunities, working visits to US organisations, pitching to potential investors, boot camps, providing work space and business acceleration programmes. All services will be allocated via an open and transparent selection mechanism.60 associated partners from the EU and the US support the NearUS Network, with more associated partners expected in the future.

Under the leadership of DLR, EBN has teamed up with InBIA and, together, as the innovation networks in the consortium, we will drive the activities of the Centre. We have collaborated with InBIA over the years, and now have a concrete workplan to collaborate on international activities for our respective members. 

The big picture

The overall approach for the three Centre projects is similar; stakeholders from research (universities, research institutes and networks), innovation (science parks, incubators, accelerators, funding agencies) and business (startups and SMEs) are the main beneficiaries of these initiatives. They will receive tailored, business-oriented services, supporting information sharing and capacity building/training, promoting networking events and market research visits, providing relocation and soft-landing services.

European companies and researchers can express their interest in one or more of the international centres and apply to receive information on activities and events, training sessions and B2B, R2R and R2B matchmaking. 

What’s more… 

Promoting the excellence of European science, technology and innovation means meeting the challenges of competitiveness and creating high-quality jobs. Doing this internationally means increasing the success of these challenges.

The key is to find trusted partners and work in synergy with them, to create fertile ecosystems where new ideas meet new skills and competences, and create the future. A future where new markets create a whole new universe of opportunity.

EBN offers the opportunity to access these international centres of European research and innovation. For more details please contact or

A view from SPI, coordinator of ERICENA

Sara Medina is a member of the Board of SPI (, an international management consultancy company created in 1997 as an active centre of national and international networks connected to SMEs and innovation sectors.

SPI has more than 75 full-time staff from ten different nationalities located in the various offices of the company (Portugal, Spain, China, Singapore and the US). 

"We support companies in identifying potential clients; provide consulting, training and R&D services across different sectors “

“Having a physical presence in China and the US since 1999 has allowed us to support European companies in the internationalisation process to these markets. We quickly understood that, in order to be able to consider entering the Chinese markets, a physical presence was needed. You need to go to China many times in order to interact face-to face with different organisations; this requires time and building of trust. Markets in Brazil, China, the US and Southeast Asia are definitely very attractive, but require local support to find partners and help with local business. We support companies in identifying potential clients; provide consulting, training and R&D services across different sectors: agro-food, healthcare, tourism, environment, ICT and software, higher education and government; establishing contacts with local government authorities, industrial parks, S&T entities, investment agencies, etc. SPI also conducts market studies and organises missions to these markets and has seen that Brazil, China, the US and Southeast Asia have a lot of potential for EU companies.” 

A short note on NearUS from InBIA 

We asked Kirstie Chadwick, President & CEO of InBIA, how they will engage their members in the initiative. 

“InBIA’s Soft Landings designation is a two-year accreditation provided to entrepreneurship centres that serve foreign companies. Credibility, visibility, and access to programmes through the State Department and the European Commission’s NearUS project, in collaboration with EBN, are benefits that InBIA’s 35 Soft Landings centres (that are located across nine countries) currently enjoy. InBIA has received high demand from members to facilitate the creation of a quality network of entrepreneurship centres that enables startups and growth businesses to accelerate internationalisation efforts. Soft Landing serves this purpose.”

“InBIA’s Soft Landings designation is a two-year accreditation provided to entrepreneurship centres that serve foreign companies."

The Ohio University Innovation Center

Stacy Strauss runs one such programme from Ohio University Innovation Center and we asked Stacy how being part of the network adds value to the business support they can offer to foreign companies. 

“This recent recognition brings to light the myriad resources available to foreign companies in Southeast Ohio,” she said. “We would not have received this designation without the resources of our partners, the Athens County Economic Development Council and the Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth. Together, we have the necessary elements to attract, retain and support foreign companies in our region.” 

"This recent recognition brings to light the myriad resources available to foreign companies in Southeast Ohio."

The Innovation Center’s 36,000 square-foot facility features six biotechnology labs, 33 offices, and prototype development space and equipment. The Center serves local entrepreneurs by providing office, meeting and laboratory space with flexible lease options, as well as access to shared equipment.

The incubator also offers business coaching and access to funding opportunities and other resources to help startup companies grow. The business incubator works closely with university and regional partners, including TechGROWTH Ohio, a public/private partnership based at Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs.

The Innovation Center provides various services to foreign firms to facilitate soft landings, including domestic market research, identification of local customer prospects, access to capital and potential funders and cultural training. It also offers assistance with protecting intellectual property and patenting, meeting government regulations and understanding import/export laws.  

The Dutch Experience of Soft Landing 

“Startup locally and act globally. This is the smart approach. This is what most startups are looking for nowadays. Business Development Friesland (BDF) and their Inqubator Leeuwarden facilitate global-driven startups from Friesland with ‘soft landing’ options made possible by the EBN network.”

“One of the best international entrepreneurial cooperations was with the ANCES network and EOI from Madrid. They sent three startup entrepreneurs from Spain, to us, residing for a month in Leeuwarden, to explore the possibilities of expanding their business to the Netherlands. These Spanish entrepreneurs have opened their eyes to international sales to Dutch startups. The Dutch startups could see for themselves the possibilities for startups to go international, and this has really created a positive vibe among our Dutch startups. BDF is a strong supporter of opening possibilities for international sales. When determining your market, take a look at the international market too, it’s a big world out there!”

“Recently we have become the facilitator for a fast-track programme in the Netherlands for non-EU entrepreneurs aiming to start their own firm in the Netherlands. These entrepreneurs can apply for a residence permit, but it is obligatory to be guided by an experienced mentor (facilitator). We are honoured to have been selected for this role and the related task of assessing and evaluating the added value of these startups to the Dutch economy. Our evaluation will be taken in consideration by the immigration agency when deciding on whether to provide a permanent permit or not. Pretty cool and a powerful acquisition tool for our region.”

Lennard Drogendijk. Business Development Friesland

“Jose and Sonsoles, founders from two different Spanish startups arrived in November 2016. We opened up our network and introduced them, gave them personal coaching, let them join our group workshops, and encouraged them to be part of the incubator’s community. They loved it, even though they could only stay for a brief month. We have maintained contact, and a few months later, we have started to cooperate in new (EU-funded) projects with them. To us this is the essence of engaging in international soft landing and projects; not solely for short duration of the mentoring period, but the chance to build long-lasting partnerships and collaborations that evolve - both for us and the entrepreneurs. We hope that our international startups will do the same and consequently build up their network abroad, increasing the impact and their reach.”

Jannet de Jong, Incubator Manager StartHub, Wageningen 

Other projects 

EBN is not new to international projects and partnership. Leveraging on the expertise and best practices coming from the network, EBN has been promoting research, entrepreneurship and innovation all over the world, over the last few years. Some noteworthy initiatives:

INCOBRA aims to increase, enhance and focus Research and Innovation (R&I) cooperation between Brazil (BR) and EU. The project is contributing to: (i) increasing cooperation patterns – by supporting cooperation networks among BR and EU R&I actors; (ii) enhancing framework conditions – by fostering coordination and alignment of R&I funding in BR and EU; (iii) have more focused BR-EU R&I cooperation – by identifying emerging topics and opportunities in priority R&I areas for cooperation. For more information, contact Chiara Davalli at or visit

SEBSEAM aims at promoting Malaysia as a direct trade market and as an easy, costeffective gateway to the ASEAN market of 600 million consumers. At the same time, Malaysian SMEs wanting to establish themselves regionally benefit from partnership with reputed and innovative EU companies that can offer high standard quality and services. For more information visit or contact Robert Sanders at

IPR HELPDESK CHINA and SOUTH-EAST ASIA support European Union (EU) Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) to both protect and enforce their Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) in China and Southeast Asia through the provision of free information and services. These take the form of jargon-free, first-line, confidential advice on intellectual property and related issues, plus training, materials and online resources. For more information, contact Raffaele Buompane at

INNO INDIGO implemented a coordinated funding scheme for Indo-European cooperation projects in the field of research and innovation. The project aimed at ensuring global competitiveness and helped satisfy social needs through innovation. As the new ERA-Net with India, the INNO INDIGO project first analysed the needs of the Indian and European markets in order to set up joint initiatives that strengthened the European-Indian STI collaboration. This was done through the involvement of industries and clusters of excellence and regions as important funding partners with strong links to the regional industry on both sides (Europe and India). For more information contact Chiara Davalli at or visit 

Laura Lecci is an experienced Project Manager working at EBN since May 2012. She animates the bioeconomy Special Interest Group of the network and manages EU funded-projects in this topic, mainly focusing on supporting research projects in the ICT sector to start up and scale up: SmartAgriFood, TRAFOON, CommBeBiz, and ACTTIVATE. Laura also coordinated the Startup Europe project, WeHubs, the first European network of women web entrepreneurs. Currently, she oversees the development of the three international centres. 

Robert Sanders is a graduate from Leicester University and has spent over 15 years working in international business development roles in the food and retail sector. He set up his own consultancy business in 2001 and now supports the EBN Project Team, building consortia with EBN Members and other international project management specialists in all areas of innovation and entrepreneurship who think smart! 

Published on 12-07-2017 00:00 by Robert Sanders. 2325 page views

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