Scotland's Smes Are Eager To Board The Export Express, But It's A Tough Business Getting A Ticket: AvantiCell Science

Published: Dec 20, 2013

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Politicians never miss an opportunity to hammer home the message that we are competing in a global economy and that we have to get our goods and services out to the wider marketplace. In short: export or die.

In the macro-economic sphere, there is every reason to be satisfied that the message is hitting home. The Scotch whisky industry has shrugged off the worldwide recession with exports up 71% between 2006 and 2011 to £4.23 billion. Food exports have risen as spectacularly, up 65% in the same period.

Our big engineers are also carrying the baton of a fine tradition, with companies such as Wood Group, Weir Group, Aggreko and Clyde Blowers not only operating in a global environment but beating the opposition off the park.

Now, say the export enthusiasts, it's time for Scotland's SMEs to step up to the plate. Time for them to essay forth into the world and pick the low hanging fruits from the tree of export success.

Would that it were so easy.

The hard fact of life on the lower rungs of the corporate ladder is that SMEs, regardless of the quality of their offering, face a Sisyphean task breaking into established markets in the economies in which the real money now resides.

It is particularly difficult as a would-be exporter not to feel some sympathy for Willy Loman, trudging the streets with his case of samples in the Death of a Salesman. The 21st century equivalent for Scottish exporters is transiting the arrivals and departures halls at Schiphol on the way to and from the Far East.

At AvantiCell, we have an established network of contacts in Europe which, in the main, has been built through persistent technical dialogue by the company’s co-founder, Dr Colin Wilde, with technology leaders in academia. It is often through extension to their industry contacts that AvantiCell has extended its commercial reach.

In markets in the east, where a significant degree of the world's biotechnology work is now taking place, it is a different story. It is a long hard slog of knocking on doors, attending trade shows and, increasingly, bio-partnering - a kind of speed-dating for businesses where you have a limited time to make your pitch to a succession of different parties.

And it is easy to be tripped by unexpected cultural and social mores. It is rare to encounter anything but scrupulous courtesy when doing face to face business in many Asian countries. At the same time, however, exporters have to be acutely aware that while they may be at the top of the agenda while they are in the room with a prospective customer, they are often just a vague memory by the time they have shut the door behind them on the way out.

Our export effort at AvantiCell is not helped by the fact that we are dealing with a very delicate type of product - live human and animal cells. Selling them internationally is challenging, since they are so temperature sensitive. A few degrees the wrong way and they, quite literally, are dead.

This means we have to establish strong working relationships not only with customers but with transportation experts and couriers whom we have to trust to handle our product appropriately.

Recently, we have gained a foothold in Japan - and curiously, the door was opened by an Irishman who is now living in that country. Previous years of approaches to Japanese potential customers had yielded insignificant results.

Once established in Eastern markets, the relationships can be strong and lasting. At the official launch of a joint venture between AvantiCell and a Malaysian partner, we were welcomed by seven Malaysian Government ministers, the UK High Commissioner, the UK chief scientific adviser and the EU Ambassador.

The message is clear: both Scottish and British companies are welcome on the other side of the world and the fruits of international trade are sweet. But you have to put in loads of time and effort. When did anything good come easily?

Dr Joanna Oliver is chief executive of AvantiCell Science.

For further information about AvantiCell, contact Dr Joanna Oliver, chief executive, Gibbs Yard Building, Auchincruive, Ayr, KA6 5HW, Scotland, UK. t: +44 (0) 1292 521060. f: +44 (0) 1292 521610. m: +44 (0) 7867 977147. e:

Issued on behalf of AvantiCell by Michael Crawford at BPM (UK), 0141 353 1515.

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