Conquering international markets is an indispensable growth lever for companies. Such a project can take different forms or follow different paths: from e-commerce to mergers and acquisitions.
International expansion can be an important growth factor for your company and an undeniable source of opportunities – both commercially and in terms of innovation or resilience. After a complete assessment of your current situation, an inevitable question follows: which strategy should you apply to realise your project? There's no magic formula or mapped-out path: in reality, you often adopt a wide-ranging approach based on various strategies. Nevertheless, we do see some broad outlines. And each has its own strengths and limitations. Whatever you decide, your choice should fit into an overall thinking and be in line with the current situation and the future of your business. The objective? Increasing your chances of success and keeping the risks under control as much as possible.
1. Direct and indirect export
This is naturally one of the most widely used strategies for conquering foreign markets. You can sell your products abroad through one or more channels:
- E-commerce: E-commerce is a fast and accessible solution to get 'far' with limited resources. Internet sales have grown very strongly in recent years but have a significant impact on the logistical workload. This includes not only technology and conformity, but also the commercial aspect. You are far from your target market and must deal with competitors from all over the world, while the internet knows no borders – and that's both an asset and an obstacle.
- A local intermediary: A gamble without too many risks, because you make use of the power of local sales – your agent delivers the customer's orders locally and you transfer them. The only thing left to do is to decide how to distribute your products. In this regard, it's important that you make full use of your knowledge of the foreign market. Think, for example, of consumers' consumption habits and expectations. Although this approach does not require major investments (payments on commission), it isn't entirely without risk. The success of your project is entirely in the hands of your local contact, leaving you to count on that partner's reliability.
- Commercial distribution: A similar approach to conquering the international market. This strategy can be implemented quickly and is the result of cooperation with independent distributors who are based in your target area. They buy the goods and then sell them, enabling you to benefit from their expertise and network. Unlike the intermediary, this distributor takes several tasks off your hands (invoicing, collection, marketing costs or import costs). Choosing the right partners and determining the terms of the contract is no easy task. After all, your project's success depends on it...
- Transfer of patents or technology: This is a way to make your know-how or technology pay off, not your products. This transfer of skills gives a foreign entity the right to use your methods or innovation within the framework of a previously established contract (geographical area, duration, etc.). An opportunity to go international where you 'outsource' production, sales and distribution. Contract preparation is one of the stumbling blocks of this approach.
2. Local establishment
Another model for internationalisation is to establish your business abroad. This means that you go local: you establish your entire value chain in another country, or you produce, distribute or sell your products there yourself. This geographical approach necessarily requires greater investment, but it also gives you more clout. This approach is also a way of reinforcing your resilience: the financial and commercial risks, as well as the pressure on your value chain, are spread over several areas. Over the years, a more flexible approach has also been introduced, allowing companies to move more flexibly in line with the international situation. Various options are also available here:
- Subsidiary or branch: In both cases, it's a matter of establishing a firm and lasting foothold in the local market. However, the project requires a solid foundation and a long-term vision. You should also think carefully about the legal status: do you opt for a subsidiary or for a branch? Consequently, when making this decision, take into account various factors: the degree of autonomy, the desired degree of decentralisation or consultation, the legal and tax implications, whether or not to produce locally (to take advantage of cheaper raw materials, for example), the financial resources that you can mobilise, and so on. In any case, a perfect lever for applying the well-known formula 'think globally, act locally'.
- International joint venture: This principle is based on the creation of synergies. Your company joins a company that already has a local presence and both companies complement each other. Each company benefits from the other's strengths while sharing the activity's risks, control and common costs. Such a joint venture or partnership often requires a customised legal structure. As you can see, a joint venture is not an easy marriage. It's therefore crucial that you find the right partner and come to an agreement with them concerning each party's input and responsibilities.
- Merger or acquisition: This growth strategy offers a few advantages. What's the greatest advantage? A merger or acquisition is a method of consolidating and diversifying your business. It's also a 'quick' way to conquer a new market by exploiting the local company's competitive advantages (technological, commercial, etc.). Such a project naturally entails not only potential benefits, but also risks. For example, you may misjudge the sources of value creation or the risks, or have difficulty integrating.
As you can see, your international project's success depends on many factors. And, first and foremost, on your own strategic choices and your ability to develop a clear vision of exactly what you want to achieve. From the development of a commercial partner network to a sustainable local presence, there are many options that deserve not only thorough consideration, but also professional guidance.
A full 'assessment' before you go abroad
We can no longer deny the benefits of internationalisation. But is your business ready for it? A thorough assessment to measure your project's success is therefore a must before you cross the border.
Just because your business is doing well in our country doesn't mean that you can just jump into the export market. An international breakthrough is an important strategic (and necessary) choice that requires extensive preparation. The first step is to take a detailed look at the state of affairs of your company. Because that way you can:
- Highlight your strengths and success factors: a specific skill, your expertise, your brand image, etc.;
- Identify your weaknesses: both internal (poor knowledge of the target market, need for funding, etc.) and external factors;
- Prepare your structure for 'new' demands: in terms of human resources and in financial, organisational, legal or commercial terms;
- Draw up your roadmap: make the necessary changes, maximise your assets and find the right solutions for your weaknesses.
A COMPLETE TOOLKIT
Such an assessment is not market research in the literal sense of the word, although some elements will eventually overlap or complement one another. The assessment should also enable you to gain insight into existing opportunities (competitive advantage, commercial trends, etc.) and threats (changes in legislation, major competition, etc.). To do that, you must be able to look at your foreign target group with the necessary distance.
There are many tools for this. Examples include the SWOT analysis, Porter's five forces model, the Boston Consulting Group matrix or the PESTEL analysis to measure the influence of macro-environmental factors. So, feel free to use those tools, but also remember the importance of step-by-step guidance.
A MUCH-NEEDED SELF-ANALYSIS
Give attention to different elements. To achieve a relevant assessment, you must also find answers to a series of important questions:
- Create your 'identity card'
Take an unbiased look at your organisation. What are your values, culture, references, image, etc.? How are you perceived by others? Does your positioning match your identity? Through these questions, you'll also gain insight into the reasons for your successes and failures on the international market. It's interesting to repeat the positive points and learn from your mistakes.
- Analyze your position on the domestic market
Take stock of your commercial position. Examine the evolution of your recent results and your weighting in your segment (market share, competition, degree of dependency, etc.). Find out what stage your products and services are in (launch, growth, saturation or decline). Next, you can consider your market's prospects and future: how will it evolve? A very important question at a time where the challenges of the sustainable transition are radically changing many sectors.
- Assess your products and services
Each country has its own specific obligations and standards. So, ask yourself whether your products and services are 'compliant', both commercially and legally. Perhaps you need to adapt them? Or maybe your production or delivery method needs to change (e.g. to respect the cold chain and guarantee reasonable delivery times)? In other words, are you ready for the step from a commercial point of view?
- Lay bare your capabilities
If you want to conquer foreign markets, you must be able to cope with that growth rate on an operational level as well. Can you increase or adapt your production capacity to the new demand? Are you ready for that in terms of supply and logistics? Also take into consideration the reliability of your partners and suppliers. And don't forget that your inventory will increase, and you must also have guarantees in that regard as well.
- Examine your financial situation carefully
Going international means a big investment for your company. So, take a close look at your finances and see whether you have enough funds to bring the project to a successful conclusion. You need these resources, for example, to launch commercial initiatives locally (while waiting for the first revenues), to 'transform' your company in the necessary areas, to support your activity in your own country or to recruit additional staff.
- Carry out an analysis in the area of human resourcesTo export, you need qualified and skilled staff (production, sales teams, communication, after-sales service, R&D, etc.). You may also need to train staff or recruit new talent with international experience. Although internationalisation can be an extra motivation for your employees, it will also require additional efforts from them. So, don't lose sight of the 'human' factor either!
This complete audit of your structure gives you everything you need to make the right choices. Have you got the commercial strengths, the human and financial resources, the operational capabilities and the necessary experience to take the step? Do you need some extra support to adjust certain parameters? Or are you postponing the launch to find the right solutions for some weak spots? The adventure can begin once you're ready!
Ingrid Daerden of Aedifica is the new ‘Trends CFO of the Year’
With this award, which was presented on 20 October for the tenth year in a row, Trends and BNP Paribas Fortis are highlighting the achievements of a Belgian CFO.
Ingrid Daerden of Aedifica won the award this year, succeeding Nicolas De Clercq of Kinepolis. She owes this to a miracle 2020 in which, despite corona, Aedifica raised more than 700 million euro and got a Bel-20 listing.
In addition, the Walloon biotech group Univercells received the award for ‘Deal of the Year 2021’. Univercells raised 120 million euro from a number of prestigious investors and is preparing an IPO.
Ingrid Daerden’s great track record at Aedifica
The jury named Ingrid Daerden ‘CFO of the Year’ because of her contribution to the strategic development and financing of Aedifica’s growth. Since she joined Aedifica as CFO three years ago, the healthcare real estate specialist has enjoyed remarkable growth. During that time, the 47-year-old commercial engineer paved the way for seamless financing and built her finance team into a solid foundation for Aedifica’s growth. In 2020, the healthcare real estate company became a fixture on the Bel-20, raising over 700 million euro in capital. In June this year, it raised another 286 million euro, and in September Aedifica issued a 500-million-euro bond. In times of COVID-19 this all went smoothly. The jury also saw the integration of sustainability and ESG criteria in the financial policy.
Ingrid Daerden won over four other outstanding candidates: Charles Jacques of Masthercell, Jean-Pierre Mellen of Recticel, Nadia Messaaoui of Technord and Geert Peeters of Greenyard.
Univercells wins the 'Deal of the Year 2021'
For the third time, Trends also awarded a prize for the ‘Deal of the Year’. All mergers or acquisitions and capital operations (initial public offering, capital increase, private placement, etc.) in which a Belgian company was involved in 2020 qualify for this award. Univercells received the award. The Walloon biotech group managed to persuade KKR, an American investment company, and funds linked to the foundations of Bill and Melinda Gates and Georges Soros, to enter into its capital. This complex operation earned Univercells the ‘Deal of the Year 2021’ award.
Since 2012, BNP Paribas Fortis and Roularta have been highlighting the exceptional qualities of CFOs in Top 500 companies in Belgium. The jury’s choice is primarily determined by the strategic vision and leadership shown.
Deliverect, Odoo and Abriso-Jiffy win the Private Equity Awards 2021
On 13 October, our bank and the Belgian Venture Capital & Private Equity Association put the spotlight on these companies, as they achieved remarkable growth thanks to private equity.
A number of fast-growing Belgian companies were once again honoured at this year’s Private Equity Awards. This event highlights the role that venture capital investors play in the growth of both start-up, fast-growing and mature companies. Raf Moons, Head of Private Equity at BNP Paribas Fortis, represented our bank in the jury.
The jury had the difficult task of choosing one winner from three nominated companies for each of the three categories – Venture, Growth and Buy-out.
- The ‘Venture company of the year 2021’ category focuses on young companies developing and marketing an innovative product or service with the support of a venture capital investor.
- The ‘Growth company of the year 2021’ category is for companies that expanded their business significantly through organic growth or an acquisition policy. They brought a financial partner on board without the latter aiming for control.
- The ‘Buy-out company of the year 2021’ category focuses on the transmission and growth of companies achieved by management and a private equity investor with a controlling stake.
- Venture company of the year: Deliverect
This fast-growing SaaS company connects delivery platforms with food companies around the world. To help companies manage their delivery and pick-up operations more efficiently, Deliverect integrates food ordering platforms into the cash register system, eliminating the need to re-enter orders and the costly errors that come with them. Deliverect was founded in 2018 and is headquartered in Ghent. It employs more than 200 people.
Deliverect emerged as the winner because the company has achieved enormous growth in the short term. The company is active in 38 countries and, therefore, certainly has the opportunity to become a global player within its sector. The delivery and takeout solution developed by Deliverect is crucial to the restaurant industry and became very relevant during the pandemic.
Other nominees in this category were AgomAb Therapeutics and Imcyse.
- Growth company of the year: Odoo
Odoo is a suite of open source business apps that cater to all business needs: CRM, e-commerce, accounting, inventory, point of sale, project management, etc. Odoo has more than 7 million users, located in more than 120 countries. The company has over 1,700 employees, was founded in 2004 and is headquartered in Grand-Rosière (Walloon Brabant).
For the jury, the resilience shown by the company in recent years was one of the decisive factors in selecting Odoo as the winner. A deciding factor was also the quality of its products, which are not only very modern but also very user-friendly. Finally, the company, firmly anchored in Belgium, has a large international reach with its presence all over the world.
UgenTec and Univercells were also nominated in this category.
- Buy-out company of the year: Abriso-Jiffy
Abriso-Jiffy has evolved from a local 'bubble & foam' manufacturer to a leading European group specialising in sustainable protection and insulation materials for the packaging and construction sector. The group was founded in 1985, is based in Anzegem and employs approximately 1,500 people across 15 production sites in 11 European countries.
This company was chosen by the jury because of its track record. First of all we are talking about a successful turnaround, followed by the entry of Bencis Capital, the acquisition of Jiffy and finally the very attractive exit. This journey was accomplished by a broad-based team. In addition, ESG criteria are deeply embedded in the company’s business model, making Abriso-Jiffy a true ambassador for the Private Equity Awards.
In addition to Abriso-Jiffy, Corialis and Circet Benelux were also nominated.
Didier Beauvois, Head of Corporate Banking and Member of the Executive Board of BNP Paribas Fortis:
"As co-founder of the Private Equity Awards, we have organised this event now for the fourth time. On the one hand, to highlight successful Belgian growth companies and, on the other hand, to show how private equity can help companies. Not only innovative scale-ups, but also companies that wish to make the transition to a more sustainable business model through extra investment, have a natural need for capital. This type of investment often only pays off in the longer term. That is why, as a bank, we believe it is important to assist companies with this through our private equity offering. In this way, we can make a positive contribution to the Belgian economy and to society. We are actually freeing up additional resources for this and intend to double our private equity portfolio to EUR 1 billion by 2025."
Read the full file on Private Equity in Trends-Tendances:
- Full portrait of the winners in Trends/Tendances (Dutch/French)
- Interview with R. Moons, Head Private Equity BNPP Fortis and P. Demaerel, Secretary General at BVA (Dutch/French)
- Interview with B. Peeters and Q. Masure from Tiberghien (Dutch/French)
- Interview with M. Thumas and J. Van Assche from Eight Advisory (Dutch/French)
- Interview with M. Herlant and S. Spitaels, Associaties EY Strategy and Transactions (Dutch/French)
Belgian gaming industry gets a big push
BNP Paribas Fortis Private Equity, together with Howest and Cronos, recently founded ForsVC, the first venture capital fund to focus exclusively on the Belgian gaming industry.
The gaming industry is booming all over the world. A lot of Belgian talent works on the development of computer and video games. In recent years, there has been a true explosion of creative video game start-ups in Belgium. But still, a lot of highly skilled creative people too often go abroad.
From brain drain to brain gain
As a venture capital fund for the Belgian video game industry, ForsVC wants to combat this brain drain. In the coming years, it will invest 10 to 15 million euros in gaming. Each of the three parties is bringing its specific experience and expertise. The Kortrijk college Howest as a reputable training institute. The Cronos group as a seasoned entrepreneur and investor in technology companies, including gaming studios. And the bank as a financial expert in Private Equity.
By making capital and expertise available to promising game companies, the existing ecosystem is enriched and made a lot more attractive. Belgian companies can professionalise themselves, develop high-quality games and pay competitive salaries.
Mireille Kielemoes, managing director fund investments Private Equity at BNP Paribas Fortis: “ForsVC is what we call a “university-linked” fund. This is a specific envelope within our Private Equity portfolio which, among other things, invests in university spin-offs or innovative companies whose IP (intellectual property) has a link to universities or knowledge institutions. Through these funds, we support innovation, creativity, job creation and entrepreneurship in Belgium in promising areas. For ForsVC, we’ll also be working via a participation in the game companies, but individual games are also eligible for project funding through revenue-based lending.”Press coverage dated 14/10