International business in digital times
The building sector plays a major role in the Swedish and Danish society reaching their ambitious climate targets. The investments that come with this push towards climate neutral buildings, in combination with the innovation and sustainability-minded approach in the region, make these markets attractive to Dutch companies that offer sustainable and energy-efficient solutions for buildings. But how do you act on those opportunities when you cannot travel physically? Our colleagues Anne de Vries and Tiffany Meijer took a group of 16 Dutch innovative companies on a digital trade mission to test the waters. Their conclusion? With about 110 new business connections established, and 65% of the Dutch companies expecting to sign a contract as a result, digital missions might not just be the next best thing in doing business abroad, but could become a key component of any (sustainable) international business trajectory.
“This new way of Digital Trade missions could be the best next thing in discovering a country businesswise”. – Frederic Marcillaud, Airturb
“It was a great experience hearing Nordic experts speak about sustainable building and energy initiatives. The match making concept that came along with the trade mission has proven to be very valuable!” – Michel Kraaijeveld, thinkproject
The digital trade mission, which InnovationQuarter organized in collaboration with FME and the Dutch Embassy Network in the Nordics, took place between October 26th and November 6th. The program was aimed at providing a targeted group of companies with in-depth knowledge and high-quality business contacts. The delegation familiarized with the Swedish and Danish key stakeholders and market trends, through a mix of small-scale round table discussions, keynotes from industry leaders and one-on-one matchmaking. The interest from Danish and Swedish stakeholders to participate in these sessions was significant: over 90 developers, architects, building companies, city planners and others attended the respective Dutch-Danish and Dutch-Swedish days on sustainable building and energy systems to connect to the Dutch delegation and share their knowledge and expertise.
“We are always looking for partnerships in the pursuit of building better cities. This mission helped us a lot with the latest developments in Scandinavia and linking to the perfect partners to explore collaboration”. – Ruben Lentz, BLOC
“If you look around, there is a great wealth to be discovered in international contacts. For me these (online) missions are a steppingstone into new markets and provide access to new innovations and partnerships”. – Maurits van Hoogevest, Building The New
Some of our key takeaways
- There is no ‘Nordic’ market
Contrarily to what some entrepreneurs who start expanding to Northern Europe believe, there is no such thing as the ‘Nordic’ market. Although the energy and climate goals of Sweden and Denmark are similar, the context in which they work towards these goals varies. For example, in Denmark, the architect has a large role in promoting sustainability, not only at the design stage but increasingly also throughout the entire construction cycle. In Sweden, on the other hand, large construction companies like Skanska and NCC hold much of the influence in sustainable innovation. For a foreign entrepreneur, this means that the best ambassador for your product may differ between the markets. Also, the construction market is in many ways more locally organized than nationally, especially outside the larger cities.
- A trend towards long-term thinking
A tendency that is similar in the Danish and Swedish market is the increasingly long-term approach to real estate investment. This opens up the market for sustainable solutions that are not necessarily a quick win but do lead to a return on investment in the longer run. This trend is most strongly observed in the public sector (including public housing), which is to lead by example. However, industry insiders increasingly observe the private sector moving in the same direction as sustainable and climate-smart premises have a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining tenants and buyers. As one of the speakers concluded ‘the market is in favour of sustainability now’.
- Data, data, data
The mission contained 45 different (break-out) sessions on a variety of topics. One theme that came back in almost all of them though was the importance of gathering and standardizing data. In order to obtain zero-energy buildings and circular construction, there is a great need to gather and standardize data on construction materials, processes and the actual behaviour of buildings in use, so that sustainability can be better quantified and managed. Both in the Danish and Swedish context, digitalization is considered a key driver in the sustainable building sector and considerable investments are anticipated.
- The value of a digital trade mission
This digital mission proved just as effective as a physical mission in gathering market information and getting new business contacts and had the additional advantage of being time and resource-efficient. Although meeting face-to-face remains a vital part of doing business, and will be needed to turn new contacts into actual partnerships, this digital trade mission allowed to identify those areas and stakeholders that provide the best opportunities for Dutch companies, thus making follow-up sessions and visits much more targeted. Hence digital trade missions could well be used as a first step in any future international business development trajectory. In that manner, we do not only work on selling our sustainable technologies abroad but also making that process more sustainable in itself.
“Good contacts supported by a good organization in a friendly setting. Targeted approach aimed at results.” – Frans Leurink, GloBLD
As our mission participants are following up on their individual leads, we are planning for future joint activities to help them further expand their network and business. In the first quarter of 2021, a series of digital round tables will take place to continue conversations with the Danes and Swedes. These will be targeted towards the three key pillars that offer market opportunities for Dutch companies: Energy, Circularity and Digitalization, and hopefully followed with small scale working visits in the second half of 2021. Do you want to be part of this follow-up or would you like to hear more about the opportunities the Danish and/or Swedish market might offer for your company? Please get in touch!