Opening up international opportunities through collaboration

Tom Horton, an investor at BGF shares his thoughts on how businesses can expand internationally through collaboration.

International trade has taken a bit of beating in recent months, thanks to the combined forces of Brexit and COVID-19. The two colliding factors have placed significant pressure on those businesses which rely heavily on goods journeying to and from the EU, and beyond. As a result, export figures tumbled at the beginning of 2021, following the end of the transition period, with UK exports to the EU falling by 40.7 per cent in January, while imports dropped 28.8 per cent. They were the largest declines since comparable records began in 1997.

While supply chain issues continued to rumble on last year, the export figures have rebounded, with the latest research from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showing that imports and exports of goods increased in the three months to November 2021 compared with the three months to November 2020. The Government also made a clear statement during International Trade and Investment Week, which was based around the robust theme of ‘Made in the UK, Sold to the World’.

As the export landscape begins to settle, and businesses become more accustomed to the demands of a post-EU world, the question that remains is how businesses can innovate and strengthen their own proposition when it comes to exporting globally.

The answer can often be found by looking closer to home before turning to the wider world. After all, many UK regions have a rich and unique heritage, both in terms of skills and legacy, that can provide the impetus and inspiration when it comes to exporting.

The Midlands is a case in point. It has a rich history in sectors including engineering, automotive and aerospace, and has a wealth of talent in these areas as a result. On the back of a strong heritage and associated skills, the region has collaborated to develop a regional and sector-led powerhouse – The Midlands Engine.

The partnership brings together public sector partners and businesses to complement the activity of local and combined authorities, local enterprise partnerships, universities, and others. The aim is to “bring a collective voice from our region, adding value as an influencer, an advocate, a catalyst for change and an enabler of accelerated delivery”.

Part of its approach is the Midlands Engine Global, which recognises that the region is home to some of the world’s most successful companies, driving trade and exports, while possessing the pioneering spirit of innovation and industry to help put the Midlands at the forefront of a new ‘Global Britain’. The partnership is bedded in the philosophy that by increasing inward investment and exports, it will help to close the productivity gap and grow economic prosperity.

The job of creating global brand recognition can clearly be achieved by working together, with regions collectively positioning themselves as key exporters. However, collaboration and export success can also be found further afield. One business that is embracing this approach is BGF-backed business, Aceleron.

The Birmingham-based company, which is pioneering sustainable battery technology, is part of the Government’s campaign ‘Made in the UK, Sold to the World’, as well as being part of the Midlands Engine Investment Fund – a project supported financially by the European Union using funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020 and the European Investment Bank.

Aceleron’s co-founders, CEO Dr Amrit Chandan and CTO Carlton Cummins value the importance of providing products and services worldwide, selling to customers in Europe, North and South America, as well as Africa and India, with The World Economic Forum featuring Aceleron as one of the ‘five innovators making the electric vehicle battery more sustainable’.

While its local ties to the Midlands Engine are key, Aceleron, is also delivering pioneering and collaborative projects on three continents. These include:

  • Africa: The business is working with Total Energies Access to Energy Storage and The Shell Foundation to deliver accessible and clean energy to off-grid communities in Kenya. The company also received a prestigious Global Leap award to expand into Rwanda.
  • Americas: Together with energy company SolarWatt, the company is supplying power home storage systems in Barbados to provide resilient, cheaper energy to a country where electricity costs are high and power cuts are common.

It’s clear that if we are going to achieve the UK’s overall export targets of £1 trillion by the end of 2030, and properly build international trade, then businesses need to play to their collective strengths and find innovative ways of working together, both regionally, nationally, and internationally.