(This article was published in the Irish Independent Newspaper on 10/11/19 and can be viewed here.)
Original article written by Hannah Fraser
There is a region close by, with a population of more than 27 million people, that could go a long way toward helping Irish exporters beat their Brexit blues. The Nordic countries – Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland – do not only offer a large variety of competitive and highly developed sectors, but also a great sense of cultural familiarity, which allows Irish companies to easily make new business connections.
All in all, these northern neighbours comprise a tantalising prospect for Irish companies wanting to reach new markets, and that is why Enterprise Ireland recently decided to ramp up its presence in the region.
To supplement its office in Stockholm, the agency last month opened an office in the Danish capital of Copenhagen.
The occasion was marked by a visit led by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to both cities and two business events, attended by 24 Irish companies.
This visit helped put the Nordics more firmly on the map for Irish exporters. For a variety of reasons, Irish companies typically follow a well-worn path: they first stop in the UK before they head on to the mainland EU or the US. They are, however, increasingly starting to see the opportunities offered by the Nordic region.
Last year, Enterprise Ireland client companies increased exports to the region by 28.6pc, reaching a total value of €877m.
Enterprise Ireland’s ambition is to help drive that figure to €1bn by the end of next year, which is part of the reason behind our decision to put more resources into the region.
A lot of the growth we currently see in the Nordics is driven by Ireland’s high-tech construction sector.
Today, almost two dozen Enterprise Ireland client companies are working on the hyper-scale data centre projects in the region.
We are seeing growth right across the board, however, including in the engineering, technology and life sciences sectors.
Some of Ireland’s most innovative technology companies are already winning big here, including SoftCo. It has secured a contract with the Finnish government to automate the procure-to-pay process throughout the government, as part of Finland’s objective to save €100m as a result of digitising public services.
While the industrial sector is the main engine of Irish exporter growth, strong opportunities exist across several sectors.
Considering the global challenges that Irish exporters currently face, many more should strongly consider including the Nordic countries in their diversification strategies.
Later this month, Enterprise Ireland will bring a group of 14 Irish technology companies on a market study visit to Slush 2019 in Helsinki, Finland, in conjunction with the embassy of Ireland in Finland.
Slush is a major technology event and is often referred to as the Web Summit of the Nordics.
Some 30,000 visitors from an array of technology sectors will be in attendance, which will give our client companies a greater understanding of the activities and opportunities in this part of the world.
It will also give Enterprise Ireland a chance to showcase innovative client companies, such as Ding, a mobile top-up platform, and Social Talent, a hiring skills platform.
Many of the businesses that will be travelling to Finland are early-stage companies classified as Enterprise Ireland’s high-potential startups.
What each of them will find when they arrive in Helsinki is that the Nordics is a region that is both highly innovative and very open to innovation.
If you bring a world-class technology, product or service innovation with a clear value proposition, they will be willing to pay for it.
It’s a little-known fact but, outside of Silicon Valley, Stockholm is the region that has spawned the most ‘unicorns’ per capita in the world – that is, privately held startups valued at more than $1bn (€905m).
Any Irish business coming to the region with a clear and compelling point of difference, and with their comprehensive market research ‘homework’ done, will find a culture that is very receptive to working with international companies.
They will also find that a reference site in the Nordics is something they can take with them globally.
The message is clear: if you’re looking for new market opportunities, look north.
Hannah Fraser is Enterprise Ireland’s director in the Nordic region, based in Stockholm