Might it be possible that Lyon is becoming the launchpad for pan-European trade? It seems the second-largest city in France in terms of startups has set its sights high in that regard. Already equipped with two major entrepreneurial hubs like French Tech in the Alps and French Tech One, the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Region has been busy setting up a prime environment for starting a business.
Conveniently placed at the heart of western Europe, it seems only natural that the region should focus on going global. We had the opportunity to meet with Joachim Bressat, charged with international startup development at the CPME Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes for small businesses, where he shared with us the 3 keys to expanding one’s business abroad.
1) Find the right partner
Bringing your business abroad is a matter of...networking. ”Normally what would happen was, everyone did their own thing within their network. What we’re trying to do here is consolidate solutions and source suitable contacts from 5 different continents,” says Joachim. In order to connect entrepreneurs with these resources, the CPME Auvergne-Rhônes-Alpes created the digital platform Take-Off in June of 2019 as a sort of “International Incubator LinkedIn”.
This service (which is 100% funded by the Region) brings together three distinct types of partners in the world of innovation: major players (incubators, accelerators, entrepreneur communities), institutions (the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, state-run development agencies) and private entities (businesses that specialize in the internationalization process from a legal standpoint or by providing translation services, for example). The objective: provide as many services for startups as possible.
“Take-Off started off with 200 partners in January 2021, but now there’s over 600 of them. It’s free to join and open to all: entrepreneurs can connect with and solicit the help of whichever partner is best suited to their needs. And good relationships take care of the rest.”
2) Choose your country
You’re also better off not venturing across the Atlantic just yet. “You have to let go of the idea that in order to succeed, you have to break into the American market,” warns Joachim. “It’s expensive in the States, and often it’s better to be the first in The Czech Republic than to come in last at the Las Vegas CES. Product before Market, always!” While it’s true that the American Dream is rather pervasive, looking internationally can also present many opportunities. “Once [your business] begins to work in one country, the other markets should begin to fall into place like a domino effect.”
A second piece of advice before you set out: make sure your capital is solid. “Structuring your capital is essential for eliminating dead weight and raising the necessary funds when the time comes. The main challenge for entrepreneurs expanding abroad continues to revolve around money.” And now, when it comes to expanding into France, Germany, Italy or Spain, Qonto can help boost your business abroad.
And as for leaders’ previous professional and life experience, it can only help serve as an asset for the project. “If they already led an international lifestyle in the past, they’ll have an easier time because they’ll have a pre-existing network and a more enterprising spirit - contrary to most startups, where it seems there needs to be sign-off at every step in the domestic market before taking the business international”.
3) Leverage existing tools
“There are quite a number of great initiatives that promote business internationalization, but very few people know about them”, adds Joachim. A few special mentions that he highlights are Erasmus Entrepreneurs (unrelated to the student exchange program) which facilitates exchange between European entrepreneurs, EIC Accelerator and Fast Track to Innovation, which are collaborative initiatives run by the European Commission, and even startup “coaching” provided by Business France.
More regional programs include Quatre moteurs pour l’Europe which groups together the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, Bade-Wurtemberg, Catalonia and Lombardy regions to promote mutual support and add an international profile to the projects in each of these areas, particularly when it comes to setting up a business. While many entrepreneurs from other member states are capitalizing on this program, the French represent a minority of users, much to their disadvantage.
One last piece of good news: due to the rising use of video-conferencing tools, Covid-19 has almost eliminated the need for physical proximity. Many international conferences have decided to go 100% online, which presents yet another opportunity to find new partnerships. Keep in mind, however, that “while these digital tools allow us to make initial connections, one still ought to go and meet people in person to further solidify the relationship”. It’s impossible to go international without some element of immersion in the target country, even in 2022.
You can find out more about the CPME Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes programs on their website: whether it’s network updates, events, trainings, webinars...and (soon) workshops organized by Qonto about how to start your business online, how to compose your articles of association, and how to deposit your share capital.