When Jennifer Tipping read the email, she knew she had to add it to her pitch.
The message from Romania had come in just that morning, a distributor using English that was slightly off to illustrate her excitement at meeting face-to-face at an upcoming European trade show:
“I consider the success in business is so often the result of human relationship, but I cherish the meeting with you in person.”
Ms. Tipping works with MMJ Labs, the maker of the Buzzy device, which uses a combination of cooling and vibration to ease the pain of injections.
The FDA-cleared company, whose founder Amy Baxter made an early appearance on the TV show Shark Tank, has an ambitious mission to end “unnecessary pain” around the world.
But at this practice pitch, Ms. Tipping wasn’t trying to win an equity investment; she wanted to illustrate how enabling her export success would help grow the Atlanta region — and her company.
This dry run took place at Export Stories 2017, a Global Atlanta event that combined a panel discussion featuring companies’ export ambitions with a practice pitch to help semifinalists of the Atlanta Metro Export Challenge prepare for the main event this spring. The event was sponsored by the Metro Atlanta Chamber and held at the law offices of Burr + Forman LLP.
Twenty-eight winners have already taken home $5,000 in grants backed by JPMorgan Chase to juice their export operations. But in a few months, they’ll have a chance to ask for a grand prize of $20,000 more.
In the session — run on the same ground rules as the real pitch will have — Ms. Tipping aimed to show how grants and other export resources had already added a new relational dimension to MMJ’s business.
In the past, meeting a colleague from Romania, Taiwan, South Korea, Australia or any of the other markets where the product has been cleared by health authorities usually meant inviting them to Atlanta.
“Because we live in this wonderful city, a lot of our distributors around the world come to visit us. When we take them to our world-class manufacturing facility up in Suwanee, Ga.,his often results in purchase order almost immediately.”
But seeing partners on their own turf? That’s where MMJ needed help.
The company would go on to use the initial grant to attend the mid-November Medica 2017 show in Dusseldorf, Germany, exhibiting as part of the Georgia Department of Economic Development‘s pavilion. The plan was to meet with existing partners in Sweden, Germany and Italy (and perhaps, Romania) while finding new sales avenues.
“This just would not have been in the cards without the $5,000 grant, which may not seem like a lot of money to larger companies, but for us it really was a barrier to doing something big like an international conference,” Ms. Tipping said.
What would MMJ do with $20,000 more? Target Korea through another trade show in March, also traveling with the state of Georgia, while deepening its market outreach in Brazil, a country that just cleared Buzzy as a medical device.
Trade shows are also integral to the success of Triatek, another Gwinnett-based company offering HVAC valves that clear the air in hospitals, clean rooms and laboratories.
Triatek CEO Jim Hall, in his pitch, shared a similar path for grant funds. The first $5,000 went to trade shows in Sweden and China. The second, much larger grant would pay for a deeper push into the Middle East.
Going to previous events required relying on partners to food the bill and the lessons learned through travel could be expensive — like the time Mr. Hall’s demo unit and valve were mistaken by Egyptian authorities for some kind of weapon.
The $20,000 would be welcome, given that Triatek is flooded with inquiries from abroad that it can’t always respond to. The company has talked about hiring a person just to manage export sales.
“Just this week, we’ve had 27 inquiries from around the world: Malaysia, a series from China, Lebanon, a number from Saudi Arabia, India and Dubai,” Mr. Hall said.
Sean Casey has been the relationship manager at Rotorcorp, where he serves as vice president. And that recently meant flying down to Panama for a five-minute meeting with an executive who wanted to “make sure I wasn’t going to rip him off,” Mr. Casey told Global Atlanta recently.
Rotorcorp supplies Robinson helicopter parts and recently sold three choppers to this customer in Panama, which runs a commercial fishing operation. The face time was valuable, he said.
But Mr. Casey plans to use the $20,000 on another project: building an e-commerce platform that will facilitate the sale of parts and even full helicopters. Aviation, he said, is stuck in the 1980s in terms of business processes, and he wants to “drag it into the 21st century.” Earlier grants went to improving a digital inventory management system.
Small companies like Rotorcorp are starting to go global from inception, stepping out with confidence on the global stage with the help of trade assistance.
Darlene Huggins of Dustex LLC has familiarized herself with the state’s free market research as she has looked into countries like Chile and India. The former has been a huge success. The latter — so far a disappointment.
Speaking on the Export Stories panel, she urged exporters or potential exporters to seize international sales before they evaporate.
“If you sit back and wait the opportunities not still going to be there,” she said, noting that global competitors are by no means standing down.
“They’re creeping into our space, and we’re creeping into their space too,” Ms. Huggins said.
NanoLumens Inc., which makes LED displays, knows about seizing market share, and vice president of marketing Joe’ Lloyd agreed that companies shouldn’t sit back and wait for opportunity to knock.
“Be opportunistic, go after it.”