Newfound’s missions make virtual case

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Can online international trade missions make the same impact as their face-to-face equivalents?

The answer, if Newfound’s experience of running three new virtual international Market Missions this month is anything to go by, is very likely yes.

For the coming months at least, virtual is the only option for those like us who exist to help scaling tech businesses grow internationally.

Like everyone else, we’ve been forced online by the pandemic and away from face-to-face events of any kind. Our plans this year to join UK government agencies on live missions were thwarted by lockdowns.

Removing the need for founders to fly across the planet to make connections, our virtual missions programme has helped them connect online instead.

September’s Market Missions programme wrapped this week, with the conclusion of our UK fintech programme, run over an intensive fortnight of online discussion, introductions and engagement. A similar national mission programme ran in parallel in Australia.

While both missions had a sharp focus on fintech, because we know it is a vertical with huge opportunity, we ran an additional mission for the state of Western Australia with a broader tech cohort, timed for London Tech Week.

Across the three programmes, we helped over 100 expert speakers to share their knowledge and advice with more than 60 scaling firms. We wanted to give this group direct online connections with the wisest tech minds in the places they wanted to grow.

Because of the way we ran our platform, those businesses were able to make the best of the connections on offer - arguably more easily than at face-to-face events. Engagement between speakers and delegates at live events is often too limited and frustrating.

Online, the barriers are removed - if you’re set up for it.

We did just that, baking in engagement to our programme through facilitated, meet-the-speakers sessions. How else could fintechs otherwise meet partners at leading VC firms, chat with Amazon’s head of data security or meet the UK’s top civil servant on fintech trade?

As with others finding their way round the ‘new normal’, we weren’t sure that our efforts to create engagement would work. Would the virtual speaker booths we’d set up work in practice? Would our speakers give up their time? And would our founders really engage?

We needn’t have worried, because it quickly became clear across our 17 UK sessions that people were embracing the opportunity.

Participants knew that, for the time being at least, this would be one of few ways to make new international connections. We found senior speakers - from the worlds of investment, tech, government and trade - actually more available to join online to meet our 30-strong tech business cohort.

Week one into two

After a successful first week - featuring speakers from government, think tanks and trade bodies - we moved into the second week with a keen commercial focus. Connecting our cohort to people in market was a key aim from the start.

We bookended week two with crucial sessions designed to help our cohort understand how to build relationships with UK business customers in practice.

We heard from big UK banks like HSBC and Santander, as well fintechs like ClearBank that have formed those business bonds already.

Advice was practical and rooted in experience. Why it was vital for fintechs to target the right people in banks and to prove that their tech can solve an actual problem. Why insights and evidence were vital. And why working investor and board networks is always better than a cold call.

Banks were frank in their admission that they need the innovations that fintechs can offer – and that the opportunity for rewards was huge. Instead of caution, fintechs should be bold, tenacious and persistent in their efforts to connect.

The UK programme also unpacked tricky issues like data regulation and GDPR. Fintech heard why early commitment to comply on data would help them avoid bigger problems later – and help keep reputations intact. Investing in legal advice at the start would avoid bigger costs later.

Fintechs heard from players like Savanta about the value of research too and its value in helping companies prepare for market entry, gain competitive advantage - and again why failing to gain market insights could cost more and lose opportunity.

They heard from Edelman UK about the importance of trust in a changing world and why fintechs should tell a credible, transparent story.

Perhaps above all, the most valuable advice for overseas fintechs came from those who’ve made the journey already and shared their lessons learned. Leaders of Everledger and Airwallex – Australian scaleups who’ve landed in the UK already – joined the founders of ComplyAdvantage and Bankable to share advice to keep five Ps - patience, passion, partnerships, product and people - front of mind when expanding overseas.

Aside from Ps, it’s been hard for almost anyone to avoid the C word and its impact on the UK market. COVID has hit hard - but it was gratifying to hear the upbeat perspectives of our entrepreneurs, who pointed to the new opportunities of the ‘new normal’ for fintechs, arising not least from increasing UK consumer adoption of online fintech services.

The upbeat view was largely shared by leading fintech investors on the prospects for funding UK expansion. Alastair Lukies of Motive, Rob Moffat of Balderton and Radboud Vlaar of Finch Capital agreed that COVID had accelerated the need for fintech innovation, with business among those most needing new tech solutions.

Sharing their investor perspective, the trio reminded overseas fintechs why metrics and traction were so important in demonstrating how tech products can replicate in new markets - and why putting your fintech eggs in the basket of one corporate customer could leave ventures unable to grow beyond that relationship.

The last word of week 2 came from the same voice as its first. Jeremy Basset, who heads up collaborative innovation agency CO:CUBED, is in the business of connecting startups and corporates. On Monday he unpacked what banks really want. On Friday he set out how fintechs should sell to them. Ahead of next week’s end-of-mission Pitch Day, it was timely advice.

So will virtual trade missions like ours be part of the ’new normal’? The answer of course, lies beyond fintech, trade and us – not least with the scientists looking for a virus vaccine. Until that comes, Newfound can continue to use its Market Missions model, confident that it has helped fintech businesses pursue their global ambitions.