Two months after the Technology Strategy Board's Tomorrow's Manufacturing Mission to China, it is yielding promising results. David Lovett, managing director of Perceptive Engineering, explains why such missions are valuable to companies like his.
Perceptive Engineering offers engineering software and consultancy to help monitor and optimise processing plants. We are UK based but believe our offer is relevant to plants around the world.
Thanks to a previous Technology Strategy Board mission, we recently opened an office in Singapore. With our inroads into the Asia Pacific market and a growing contingent of Mandarin speaking staff, we were keen to expand into China.
Selling directly into China without local knowledge or contacts would be pretty much impossible, so we were looking for partners to help us do that. And we didn’t want to simply license, we wanted our partners to be able to offer our solutions accompanied by high quality bespoke services, so needed people we could really trust.
The Technology Strategy Board mission was the ideal place to meet those people. The mission served two purposes. It gave us insight into the culture and it connected us with potential partners.
A chance for insight
Firstly, the insight. Whilst we wanted a partner to do the actual selling and delivery, it was important for us to have knowledge of the country we are entering. The local market requirements always need verifying.
On the mission we met with people with experience of our sector in China. And we were taken to social and cultural events which helped us gain a grasp on the local culture.
One of the things we found was that companies were quite focussed on their own provinces. This worked well for us as it enables us to focus on one or two partners without fear of overlapping sales effort.
We also found different areas had different priorities for sustainability. Understanding these will help us work with partners to shape our offer. One of our solutions addresses reduction in energy use on waste water treatment processes, so it was extremely useful to learn that Guangzhou had a big government drive on waste management and energy efficiency, whereas Shanghai appeared more focussed on creating a leaner competitive manufacturing environment.
Secondly, the partnerships. Much as Chemistry Innovation successfully identified UK companies with something to offer, the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), via the provincial Science and Technology commissions, did an excellent job of identifying relevant people for us to talk to.
We met government organisations with remits to improve sustainability, academics doing sustainability research and businesses operating in relevant areas.
The format was simple and sensible: presentations on what everyone had to offer and ‘speed dating’ to quickly identify which partnerships were worth delving deeper into. Translators were provided and local business people guided us through local etiquette.
The result was that we connected with two companies and one academic partner, who we are now developing a relationship with. We are putting together a proposal for collaborative R&D programme, which the Technology Strategy Board and MOST are launching in December.
If successful in this competition, the financial support for the project will help de-risk the process and provide a test bed for what we hope will be a fruitful business relationship. Even if we don’t get funded, the process will give us a clear idea of how we can work together and what we can do going forward.
So, off the back of a few well-run days in China, we have made important partnerships which could well launch an important business stream in China and grow the international presence of a British based SME. All of this would have been extremely tough without the mission.