The Breakthrough programme’s trade mission initiative aims to create new international success stories among Britain’s ambitious SMEs. The success of Santander’s recent trade mission to Brazil speaks volumes, as attending business owners gained access to a wealth of potential contacts, sales channels, business partners and leads.

Brazil was an obvious destination for the Breakthrough programme’s inaugural trade mission. The country has long been considered a rising economic superpower with its vast natural resources, booming population, massive infrastructural requirements and a growing desire for luxury consumer goods. Combine these factors with substantial economic growth, a benign political and business environment and a bundle of international trade agreements and you have the perfect export market for ambitious UK-based businesses.

Searching for candidate attendees

Last year, the Breakthrough team began searching for British companies that fitted the criteria for success in this fertile territory. Candidates were sourced through Santander’s business account holders and through organisations as diverse as Supperclub and UK manufacturers’ organisation the EEF. The aim was to whittle a long-list of candidate businesses down to the 10 enterprising firms that would benefit most from a trip supported by a global bank to one of the world’s biggest economies. In terms of criteria, the Breakthrough team looked for businesses that were:
• Private and independent
• Achieving sales of between £500,000 and £10 million per annum
• Demonstrating ongoing growth
• Displaying the appropriate level of business acumen required to develop their company overseas.

A unique opportunity

The Breakthrough trade mission offered delegates a unique opportunity. As trade mission leader Jennifer Taylor explains, “We offered the delegates a level of support that they couldn’t get anywhere else,” she says. “Selected candidates would have near-unlimited access to an independent private consultant specialising in Brazil, on-hand banking advice for Brazil and UK requirements, access to UKTI officials and, most importantly, introductions to potential business partners. A winning combination for success.”

Once the Breakthrough team had selected the 10 delegate businesses, it became evident that each delegate had their own needs and goals, ranging from selling directly into the country’s burgeoning fashion industry to making inroads into Brazil’s fast-developing rail infrastructure network. With the support of UKTI’s Overseas Market Introductory Service (OMIS), each delegate received a schedule of potential trade partner meetings tailored to meet their needs.

“On the first full day after we touched down, we visited the British Embassy and received talks from the Consulate General, a local BBC correspondent, and a law firm on the business, political and legal implications of working with the country, which people might not have been aware of before,” explains Jennifer.

“Delegates had the opportunity to meet with the very people that had drawn-up their OMIS reports and talk through the finer points of their forthcoming schedule. The next four days were filled with the tailored potential trade partner meetings.”

Aside from the core business meetings, Santander and UKTI arranged two evening networking receptions. In addition to our delegation and their potential Brazilian trade partners, guests included former Chief Creative Officer and co-founder of Jimmy Choo Tamara Mellon; Founder and entrepreneur behind River Island Bernard Lewis; and Lord Marland, Chairman of the Business Ambassadors Group, businessman, former Treasurer of the Conservative Party and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Energy and Climate Change. This was a fantastic opportunity for the delegation to meet larger businesses who have been or are successful in South America.

In other words, the trip was more than just a fact-finding mission, with several businesses setting up contracts and building turnover through their new contacts. For example, delegates in the fashion industry benefited directly from the date of the trip’s proximity to Brazil’s prestigious Fashion Week.

The Breakthrough team are already planning another trade mission to Brazil in 2012, this time focusing specifically on the fashion industry. This will also take place during the build-up to Fashion Week so as to maximise the impact of British brands entering the fashion market.

Towards future success

So did Breakthrough’s inaugural trade mission to Brazil generate any specific success stories? Yes, three of the delegates achieved commercial success within the first two months of returning from Brazil. In addition to these immediate success stories, we are also expecting medium-term and longer term successes. For example, a British manufacturer of medical scanning equipment are finalising their market entry plan and expect to achieve commercial success in 2012. Meanwhile, a consultant in the UK transport sector hopes to lend his expertise to Brazil’s programme of rail upgrades on a longer term basis.

“The business owners were really impressed with the trade mission and the fact that we were always on-hand to set up a meeting or give advice on a one-to-one basis,” says Jennifer.

“It was amazing to see how gutsy these SMEs were. They inspired me personally – I was absolutely blown away by how hard they worked to build bridges.” Jennifer Taylor.

“As the first of many trade missions, this was a big learning curve for everyone concerned, but it was a huge success. Going forward, we will build upon what we have learned for future missions.”

Following up

Following the trade mission to Brazil, the Breakthrough team have stayed in touch with the delegates, offering banking and Brazil trade-related help where required.

The Breakthrough team is planning a fresh programme of trade missions for 2012, with locations including New York, Boston, Chile, Mexico and Hong Kong, as well as that return visit to Brazil. Judging by the delegates’ positive response to the first trade mission, it seems the Breakthrough programme has established yet another successful initiative, one that aims to make a significant contribution in encouraging growth among the UK’s most enterprising SMEs.