Business musings

Articles and thoughts about international

Posted by Debbie Stocker, stored in: Innovation  Our News  

We love all things innovation and are thrilled to be involved with the Marie Curie Centre for Analytical Science Innovative Doctoral Programme (Marie Curie CAS-IDP) as an industrial partner. Based at the University of Warwick, the programme has been funded by the EU under the Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7) Marie Curie Actions to train an international group of early stage researchers (ESRs) to carry out world-leading analytical science research under two multi-disciplinary themes:

  • Predictive modelling of bacterial cell division
  • ‘Quality by Design’ of pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical products

With an integrated approach that blends sectors, disciplines and nationalities, the programme seeks to produce new ways to solve problems innovatively and efficiently, and to train scientists who think creatively, innovatively, critically and practically. We were delighted when we were asked to be involved and it is our pleasure to offer an industrial secondment to one of the students, Erick Ratamero.

Erick is Brazilian, and in his words, he “studies interesting things”. His primary interest is in Mathematical Modelling and he’s bringing this to bear in both his research project and his work with us. In the last couple of years, he has worked with Evolutionary Game Theory, Innovation Theory, and has even done a bit of modelling for Sports Science. With diverse interests, Erick’s research project is focused on understanding the FtsZ protein and its effects on membrane remodelling in bacteria, whilst in his work with us he will be using mathematical modelling to understand social network effects. It’s early days yet as both projects take shape but we’re hoping for some exciting results.

Collaboration in the most beautiful city in the world

Famous for its cultural heritage, Venice is certainly thought to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world—a sentiment that I cannot disagree with. It is also home to much creativity and innovation. Somewhat of a fitting location for the most recent Marie Curie CAS-IDP Networking Meeting.

As part of the programme, regular meetings are held for students, academic supervisors and industrial partners to review progress, share training, further develop cooperative relationships, and to benefit from knowledge creation and sharing. We have just returned from such a session held at Warwick in Venice, a University of Warwick teaching premises housed in the 15th century Venetian Palazzo Pesaro-Papafava.

Collection of photos from the Marie Curie CAS-IDP Networking Meeting, May 2014. Clockwise from top left: whole group of researchers, supervisors and industrial partners standing outside on the balcony of Palazzo Pesaro-Papafava, Warwick in Venice; small group of ESRs mid-discussion in a training workshop; ESR talking to an academic member of staff about the poster describing her research; small group of ESRs mid-discussion during a training workshop; group of ESRs standing around a poster, pointing to its contents and mid-discussion; supervisors and industrial partners discussing the outcome of ESRs training sessions.

During the two day session, many interesting conversations were had, good scientific progress was made and collaborations flourished. Putting into practice some of the frameworks we love, Matt and I delivered two training sessions to the ESRs focused on creating great relationships with supervisors and industry liaisons. Together, we encouraged researchers to step into their supervisors’ shoes and explored ideas for how to manage well across projects, time, meetings and people.

 Collection of photos from the Marie Curie CAS-IDP Networking Meeting, May 2014. Clockwise from top left: close up of Matt smiling with Burano in the background; view of Santa Maria della Salute from the water of the Grand Canal; canal side view from the balcony of Palazzo Persaro-Papafava, Warwick in Venice; view from the Rialto Bridge at night time with lights glistening across the Grand Canal; Debbie writing on a flip chart during facilitation of a training session; view of a Venetian street with washing strung across the street.

We throughly enjoyed the whole experience and have certainly learned a lot ourselves. In addition to the scientific focus, one of the most notable features of the experience for us was the quality of conversations and the breadth of topics explored, from the chemistry of confectionery to a love of fiction, beekeeping to a shared passion for cars, biology to pilates. Such shared experiences build relationships and can also be the spark for new ideas. We ourselves have come away with food for thought and are looking to develop some of these ideas further in coming months.

Image credits

Collection One
Top left: Naomi Grew, 2014; used with kind permission.
All others: Alvin Teo, 2014; used with kind permission.

Collection Two
Bottom centre: Alvin Teo, 2014; used with kind permission.
All others: Matt Stocker & Debbie Stocker, 2014.


Last year, we co-created and wrote the challenge for Warwick Business School’s inaugural Case Competition. This year the competition is back, it’s going international, and we’re thrilled to be involved once again!


Building upon last year’s resounding success, the 2014 WBS International Healthcare Case Competition will bring together the finest minds from university-based business schools across the world. With a focus on fostering creative solutions to complex problems, the competition is an opportunity for multi-disciplinary teams of students to once again bring their talents to bear on a contemporary healthcare issue.

We’re delighted that we’ve been commissioned to develop and write the challenge, working in partnership with both Warwick Business School and GE Healthcare, kind sponsors of the 2014 Competition and global providers of transformational medical technologies and services.

The event itself will take place on 25-26 April 2014, with a prize of £4,000 being awarded to the winning team. To find out more or to register (applications must be submitted no later than 5pm GMT on 21 February 2014), visit

Update 5 March 2014

From an overwhelming number of applications, 12 teams have now been selected to compete. Taking up the challenge on the day are teams from Aston Business School, Cranfield School of Management, ESADE, HEC Paris, IE Business School, Lancaster University Management School, Manchester Business School, Mannheim Business School, SDA Bocconi, University of Nottingham, University of Oxford, and Warwick Business School. Let the competition begin!


Once upon a time, in May 2010, John and his team at EngCo Ltd were competing to win an order from a firm in the US. John knew they could deliver a high quality job and it was a company they’d wanted to work with for some time. They’d also done their due diligence and knew the company had plenty of cash reserves, so payment shouldn’t be an issue.

Together, the team at EngCo worked out a price that included a 10% profit margin on the work and sent the US firm a quote for £244,000. However, the company shortly came back to them and asked for the quote in US dollars (USD) instead of pounds (GBP). John readily agreed and his sales manager duly converted their fee. Using a currency converter, she moved everything into dollars with a conversion rate of 1.4334 on 20 May 2010, rounded the figure up to $350,000, and sent the quote off again. The US company quickly accepted and John and his team were thrilled to have been selected!

EngCo got started on the work straight away, spent a couple of months completing the order and invoiced the client in early August. The client was delighted and paid almost immediately.

Great news…or not so much!

The trouble was that, having converted their original quote to US dollars, EngCo only received £219,485 instead of the £244,000 they’d accounted for! In the process, they effectively lost £24,515 and just over 50% of their profit margin.

So what went wrong?

When the US client paid EngCo Ltd, the exchange rate for USD to GBP was 0.6271. This meant that although the US company still paid $350,000 at their end, EngCo received much less than anticipated as they had converted their quote when the exchange rate was more favourable.

What could John have done differently?

There are a number of things that John could, and should, have done to protect EngCo from the risk of exchange rate fluctuations.

Quote in EngCo’s own currency

To be fair to John and his team, this is what they did initially and all would have been fine had the US firm not asked for a quote in US dollars. The team could however have been smarter when dealing with the request for a new quote.

For example, John could have quoted in dollars but negotiated with the client over who had exposure to exchange rate fluctuations and within what limits, thereby triggering a re-calculation mechanism should exchange rates become unfavourable.

He may also have been able to negotiate phased payment for the project (including an upfront deposit), again reducing EngCo’s currency exposure and significantly smoothing their cashflow.

Foreign currency account (or local bank account)

Another simple solution would have been to set up a US dollar account with EngCo’s bank and ask the US company to pay into this (John would simply have needed to provide the client with the IBAN and BIC numbers for the currency account). While this wouldn’t have protected EngCo from currency fluctuations at the point of conversion, John would have been in control of when the monies were converted to GBP (unless, of course, he needed the cash to cover overheads, in which case this option would have offered less benefit).

Setting up a foreign currency account would have also meant that if John had further expenses in the US (such as setting up an international office), he would have been able to pay in US dollars directly from this account, thereby entirely removing any exchange rate risk from these transactions.

Alternatively, if John was committed to the US market, he could even have set up a local US bank account through his existing UK bank. This option would have been particularly attractive if EngCo ever wished to give the impression of being a local US company.

Forward foreign exchange contracts

If John had been completely certain of when his team would invoice and when EngCo would be paid, he could have set up a forward foreign exchange contract. This would have meant that John was committing to converting $350,000 to GBP at a fixed point in time and at a pre-agreed exchange rate—a great solution for removing exchange rate uncertainty in a predictable transaction.

That said, a forward contract would also have had the potential to expose John to significant risk if he had not been paid on time. A forward foreign exchange contract requires that, whether payment has been received from the client or not, the exchange must be actioned regardless. Had John not been paid, he therefore would have had to find $350,000 from somewhere else in EngCo!

Similarly, if the August exchange rate had instead gone in EngCo’s favour, John would still have had to convert at the agreed forward contract rate, thereby missing out on any additional profit.

Currency options

Currency options are in some ways similar to forward foreign exchange contracts in that they enable you to buy or sell currency at a specified exchange rate at a given time. As the name suggests however, the key difference between currency options and forward contracts is that options are optional!

If John had pursued this path, he could have bought an option to sell EngCo’s US dollars at a pre-determined exchange rate but later decided whether or not to use the option. John could even have purchased an option before he knew he had won the contract, giving him the security that, whatever happened, EngCo’s margins would have been protected. If EngCo hadn’t won the contract, if the client had failed to pay when expected, or if the August exchange rate had gone in EngCo’s favour, John could then have simply chosen not to use the option, only taking the hit on the option premium.

Don’t leave your foreign transactions to chance

As John’s story illustrates, currency can have a significant impact on your profit margins and you can incur huge losses if you’re not careful! We tell the story here with two fairly stable currencies but the risks and effects are magnified further when dealing with countries in which currencies are more unpredictable.

For those of you who are looking at internationalising or are dealing with international clients, take heed! The uncertain financial environment that we find ourselves in at present only increases the likelihood of uncertain and extreme currency fluctuations, so don’t leave your transactions to chance.

Similarly, in our story, John was certain of the buyer’s ability and willingness to pay and he was able to cover his working capital requirements through EngCo’s reserves: if a relationship with a client is less certain for any reason or you are unable to fund the cashflow requirements of the project yourself, you should also look at reducing risk through various export finance and insurance options.


Posted by Matt Stocker, stored in: Internationalisation & Exporting  

If you’ve read our earlier article, Introducing OMIS—your global research network, you’ll have a pretty good idea of the ways in which OMIS (Overseas Market Introduction Service) can help you as your business expands overseas.

To enable you to maximise the value you obtain from this service and to help you create a great partnership between yourselves, your International Trade Advisor (ITA) and your OMIS team, we’ve pulled together our top tips for getting the best out of OMIS. (more…)

If you’ve seen my last post, there are in fact a whole host of ways to avoid playing ‘pin the tail on the country’! OMIS is one such resource.

What is OMIS?

If you haven’t heard of it before, OMIS stands for Overseas Market Introduction Service. Provided by UK Trade & Investment (UKTI), OMIS allows businesses to access the services of UK trade teams located in British embassies, high commissions and consulates across the world. Having used OMIS ourselves for several international client projects, we’ve found it to be a hugely valuable service and would recommend it to anyone looking to break into a new overseas market.

Why do we recommend it?

Internationalisation can be a daunting task, especially when there are differences in time zones, languages and cultures. OMIS provides a wealth of practical support, advice and key market information, supporting you through each stage of your international journey.

Whilst we’d always encourage you to begin the process of market research for yourselves, international research can be difficult when you don’t have contacts ‘on the ground’ and the research information you are looking for is in another language—Babel Fish and Google Translate only go so far! OMIS teams can prove invaluable in finding the information you need and you’ll be amazed by the caché that contacting organisations through the British Embassy brings—it really can open doors that would otherwise remain closed. Imagine sitting at your desk in the UK and receiving a call from an international embassy—you would certainly provide a warmer reception than for a cold caller. The call would probably get past your secretary too! This works in the same way abroad.

When it comes to actually visiting an international market in person, OMIS can be on hand then too. Booking meetings for a market visit and sending marketing material abroad can be time-consuming and frustrating due to the added complexities of tracking down the correct address in another language, dealing with international postage, sourcing meeting venues, and ensuring that you don’t book two meetings at opposite ends of the country on the same day! Using OMIS’ market specialists removes considerable stress and hassle both during the organisation of your visit and once you’ve actually landed in the country. We’ve used this service before and wouldn’t consider organising a market visit any other way.

How can OMIS help me?

OMIS provides a broad range of activities, each of which can be tailored to your individual requirements. You might be looking for more indepth information on a particular market, interested in identifying a new business partner for your services or looking to launch your product abroad with a splash: OMIS can help in any or all of these situations.

To give you a better idea of the types of services you can purchase through OMIS, I’ve put together a list of example activities that OMIS can undertake for you below (the list isn’t exhaustive but it is relatively comprehensive):

Market research

  • Identification of market size, market potential and key trends within a marketplace
  • Provision of localised industry and sector advice
  • Analysis of possible routes to market
  • In-country competitor analysis
  • Assessment of the potential level of demand for your products or services
  • Identification of opportunities and prospects

Introductions and partner selection

  • Identification of possible business contacts and partners
  • Assessment of the level of interest displayed by potential partners
  • Background checks and partner references
  • Provision of marketing material to partners of interest (including provision of cover letters in the partner’s native language and personal follow-up once the material has been sent)
  • ‘Warming up’ of potential partners and contacts
  • Organisation of local market introductions (for example, Chambers of Commerce, trade associations and so on)

During your international visit

  • Organisation of meetings for your market visit
  • Provision of pre-visit briefings and one-to-one mentoring
  • Provision of local support to get you from meeting to meeting in an unfamiliar country
  • Provision of translation, cultural advice and explanations of business ettiquette during meetings
  • Organisation of a launch event hosted at the British embassy (with possible access to the British Ambassador or High Commissioner at the event)
  • Invitation of guests and organisation of bespoke receptions, meetings and seminars where you can personally present your product or service
  • Organisation of follow-up meetings and post-visit support

Sadly, not all activities are available in every overseas market as the activities are dependent upon the presence of UKTI market specialists within a given country, but where OMIS is available the market specialists are solely dedicated to supporting UK businesses (UKTI provides a full list of country specific information on their website—those countries marked in bold offer full local services).

What will it cost?

OMIS services start from around £225 and then vary in price depending upon your requirements, the level of support you are looking for and the country that you are looking to target. Overall, their prices are very competitive compared to commercial in-country support, especially when you consider the reduction of risk and the support apparatus around these services in the UK.

So what now?

Your first step is to get in touch with UKTI (look for your local contact by region) and to meet with an International Trade Adviser (ITA). Your ITA will become your key point of contact and will be able to offer additional advice on your internationalisation process. To enable you to access OMIS, your ITA will put you in touch with the right contacts, help you fill in the relevant paperwork and brief, and support you throughout the OMIS process.

Update 10 November 2011

If you have already started the OMIS process or are thinking about requesting their services, we’ve pulled together our top tips for getting the best out of OMIS in our latest article.

Cartoon drawing of a man standing in front of a map of the world with a blindfold over his eyes and a pinned scarf in his left hand. The caption reads, "Having discussed their international plans with the other directors in the pub last night, Tim wondered if 'pin the tail on the country' was really the best method for selecting a new market?"




We had the privilege of interviewing Adam Bird, Co-founder and Chief Technical Officer of Esendex. Having established themselves as leaders in business SMS in the UK, Ireland, France, Spain, Australia and now America, Esendex seeks to transform business communication.

Adam describes Esendex’s experience of going international and offers his insight and advice to other companies looking to internationalise.