Panelists discussed their export operations at an Export Challenge kickoff event. From left to right: Jason Seagle, Vayando; Robert Fabbrini, Red Brick Brewing; Jim Eckstein, Trade Rocket.

Two out of the three don’t make physical products, and the third represents an industry that prides itself on its local flavor. 

But the companies showcased at a kickoff for this year’s regional Metro Export Challenge initiative illustrated how consciousness about what constitutes an export is evolving.

More than 130 people gathered at Atlanta’s Red Brick Brewing to hear how these firms and others used $5,000 (or more) in grant money last year to make inroads in global markets. 

The consensus among the panelists? Exporting — whether a travel experience, a financial service or a traditional shipping container — is eminently achievable but requires a shift in mindset and good group of partners.

“If you try to do it yourself, (exporting is) crazy. None of these guys would tell you to do that. But if you grab the right partners and grab the right friends to help — and you bring a case of beer — you can get a lot done,” said Jim Eckstein, CEO of TradeRocket, alluding to the venue and using some of the humor he said helped him win the grant last year.

Mr. Eckstein’s company is an online marketplace that helps investors get returns by funding the supply-chain purchases of mid-market companies. Suppliers get paid when they want, and buyers have a ready source of working capital. 

Globally focused from inception, Mr. Eckstein said being able to point to service providers in places like the United Kingdom has gone a long way in convincing his own investors that opportunities overseas are worth pursuing. 

The potential benefits are great than the pitfalls, he said, especially considering that the export trail has already been blazed.

“Kind of follow the path that’s already been there, because it’s not really near as much anymore of a path that you’ve got to cut yourself — whatever industry you’re in,” he told the audience over craft brews and tacos.

Robert Fabbrini of Red Brick, which hosted the event, said his company was pulled into exporting with a random call from an Italian distributor. Mr. Fabbrini, who had serendipitously studied the language years earlier, bumbled through firm’s first export sale on the phone. Soon, the craft brewery was supplying substantial volumes through its Italian partner, even selling to the beer bastion that is Germany.

Winning the challenge grant last year helped Red Brick solidify its ties with another distributor in South Korea. The firm had approached Red Brick asking for a newly developed beer in different packaging for a market it had never considered.

“At first we didn’t just say no, we said, ‘Heck no,’” Mr. Fabbrini said. “But then they laid out a strategy.”

The relationship developed, and last year’s grant funded a trip to Seoul to check in on an already-fruitful partnership.

“Just seeing somebody face to face, it goes a long way. We got to know our partners and look them in the eye,” Mr. Fabbrini said.

Deals like these make exporting worth the hassle and the opportunity cost of designating production time to export beer — especially when the company can get paid upfront.

It’s also a diversification play.

“What you’re seeing in the domestic market is saturation or near saturation with craft brands. You don’t get that in global markets,” Mr. Fabbrini said. “I think that’s one of the reasons that we’re looking at global markets, because we can enter a market and be a relatively new craft brand, so we’re literally building a global brand.”

Vayando, an online platform that connects travelers with social entrepreneurs, also traveled with the grant money. Founder and former Peace Corps volunteer Jason Seagle went to the World Economic Forum’s Africa event in Rwanda, its first key market, and worked with a partner to establish connections in Uganda.

See a summary video here:

After the panel discussion led by Global Atlanta, other winners from last year came forward to praisethe process, along with the export ecosystem that had emerged to serve metro Atlanta-based companies.

IronCAD credits the challenge grant with providing funding to pursue bigger accounts and landed a more than quarter-million dollar deal for its manufacturing software. Tru-Nut peanut powder used the money for trade shows, an important marketing channel.

Foxers, a loungewear and lingerie company with patents on putting the men’s boxer band on ladies’ underwear,  praised the Georgia Department of Economic Development, one of the many resources that the challenge aims to promote, along with the Export-Import Bank of the United States (present at the event), the U.S. Commercial Service, the Small Business Development Centers and others.

“It’s not just the money,” said April Spring, whose company manufactures in the U.S. and Malaysia. “It’s having this whole team. I don’t feel like a small company anymore in Georgia.”

In part led by the Metro Atlanta Chamber with a variety of partners, the challenge was launched last year with more than $200,000 in funding provided by JPMorgan Chase.

It aimed to demystify exporting and entice mostly small and medium-sized companies to pursue international opportunities. Thirty-eight companies won at least $5,000, and three companies took home an additional $5,000, $10,000 and $20,000 after a pitch competition. 

The grant was renewed with the same format this year at $100,000 by JPMorgan, with UPS kicking in $25,000 in shipping credits and Partnership Gwinnett contributing $5,000.

Applications begin with a company assessment. They’re due by Friday, May 19.

Begin with the initial export readiness assessment or learn more at

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...