Nerves were obviously running high for a few of the exporters pitching in the final round of the Atlanta Metro Export Challenge March 28.
Not that they weren’t prepared: In prior rounds last year, 28 round-one victors had been asked to write out plans for what they’d do with initial $5,000 grants. Sixteen returned for the first pitch day in February, reporting back on how they’d actually used the cash.
The top five still standing — Dustex LLC, GF Health Products Inc., IronCAD, Triatek Holdings and Winton Machine Co. — had clearly made impressions on the judges before, but the stakes were even higher as they laid bare their global sales strategies in front of more than 100 onlookers and a stern-faced semicircle of judges at the Metro Atlanta Chamber.
The winner would take home $20,000 to boost exports sales, and with the second and third prizes worth $10,000 and $5,000, even a modest showing could yield big impact for companies with as few as 15 employees.
Jim Hall, luckily, plays bass in rock bands and was at ease on stage. He disarmed the audience with humor as he described systematically how his company, Triatek, would use a big chunk of the $100,000 provided by JPMorgan Chase through its support of Atlanta’s role in the Global Cities Initiative.
“The first thing we would do is thank Chase for it; then we’d turn around and give it to Delta,” Mr. Hall said, to laughter from the audience.
His point was that travel is key to the company’s plan to boost international sales to about half of its overall business by the end of this year.
Triatek make ventilation systems that control the directional flow of air in hospital isolation rooms and research labs. That business is becoming more and more international as developing countries ramp up spending in both categories, often following standards developed in the U.S., Mr. Hall said.
Recent orders from Mexico, South Korea, Hong Kong and Brazil came in through passive channels, but Triatek wants to go out and get more of that business — an expensive prospect when factoring in airline tickets and trade show registration fees.
“They’re already ordering from us. They found us on the Internet,” Mr. Hall said of his recent customers. “What if they actually knew what we made and the technical abilities that we have and understood our entire product line?”
Mr. Hall said he has letters of invitation to both China and Saudi Arabia. A recent order came in from Pakistan, and Peru is another promising market.
Apparently, the judges wanted to give the 25-person company a chance to beat the bushes, because after deliberating for about 20 minutes, they returned with a giant $20,000 check with Triatek’s name on it.
‘Boots on the Ground’
In their pitch, Winton Machine Co.’s founders, George and Lisa Winton, said the $20,000 would have been a “game-changer” for their small company, which employs about 30 people in Suwanee.
About 15 percent of sales today come from overseas customers mostly through the Internet, but that just shows how much they’re leaving on the table by not “pressing the flesh” more globally, Mr. Winton said.
“The truth is, with chats and social media, we can only get so far,” he said.
Closing just a small proportion of the $5.5 million in open quotes internationally would mean a lot to the families of the tight-knit crew running the Gwinnett County factory, said Ms. Winton.
Using the grant to place “boots on the ground” through trips and distributorships in places like the United Kingdom, Poland, Germany and India would be integral to that plan.
Unfortunately for Winton, the judges thought other companies had a better chance to make good on such promises.
Industrial air filtration systems provider Dustex LLC, one of the larger companies in the competition, was planning trade show participation in South America, where it already has substantial sales through a partnership with Chile’s state-owned copper company, Codelco. The company took home the $10,000 grant, and one of its executives won the $500 Delta flight voucher as a door prize.
The $5,000 winner was IronCAD, which makes design software to help manufacturers more easily design parts and run simulations that will test how they might improve the efficiency of their production lines.
Enabled by an initial Export Challenge grant in 2016, the 15-person company has worked with Taiwanese universities to develop a special version of its software, which has been sold to major Japanese customers.
That collaboration has deepened its sales reach in Taiwan and beyond. In addition to assisting its resellers in Japan and Germany, IronCAD is going after the education market in China, where the government is pouring funding into “smart manufacturing” initiatives. The funding will help with airfares as President Tao-yang Han travels the world. He hopes to hire five people in Atlanta as the result of export expansion.
Ken Spett, CEO of GF Health Products, pitched first, setting the travel-oriented tone by noting the importance of trade shows to his efforts to expand sales.
He hopes to return to the Arab Health expo, which netted deals in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. In Singapore, where GF attended a trade show to learn more about clinicians’ equipment preferences, the company hopes to return as an exhibitor.
While GF didn’t win one of the major prizes, it was among the top 10 companies in the challenge, all of which received $2,500 in shipping credits from United Parcel Service Inc., which along with Partnership Gwinnett’s $5,000 contribution helped JPMorgan in supporting the challenge this year.
These benefactors see exports as crucial to the metro area’s economic health.
“Companies with global perspectives are more likely to create new jobs. They are stronger, more resilient and tend to be more innovative as they respond to global market demand,” said David Balos, head of Chase Middle Market Banking in Georgia, in a statement.
The top 10 companies receiving credits from UPS:
- Dustex LLC
- GF Health Products Inc.
- IronCAD, LLC
- J&J Chemical Co.
- MMJ Labs
- Phoenix Green Food Inc.
- Triatek Holdings
- Volantio Inc.
- Winton Machine Company
- Talha Faruqi, Aventure Aviation, last year’s winner of the Atlanta Metro Export Challenge
- Ric Hubler, Aprio
- Monica Mason, NCR
- George Tracy, US Commercial Service
- Dawn Townsend, GDEcD
Global Atlanta helped promote and moderate the pitch day final event.