Enter the Eurozone programme

Enterprise Ireland sought partners with specific market entry knowledge to design and deliver a unified programme that could build on existing sales and marketing frameworks and give due consideration to the culture of the Irish SME. Via a competitive procurement process, ESMT Berlin and IMS Marketing were selected.


The Eurozone is one of the world’s most dynamic, prosperous, and stable markets. Given that it is on the doorstep of the Republic of Ireland, the Eurozone is also a fountain of untapped opportunities for Irish companies – valued at €38bn. For Irish companies, the Eurozone boasts several important advantages, including shared currency, no customs, no tariffs, regulatory alignment, proximity, and ease of access.

Moreover, Brexit underscored the importance of accelerating ongoing diversification efforts into Eurozone markets. However, despite the benefits, there was a perception among Irish SMEs of the Eurozone as a difficult market, acting as a barrier to engagement. The Eurozone has five times the population of the UK yet receives less than two-thirds of its exports from Irish companies, even though reliance on the UK market was already down from 97 % in the 1920s to 18 % in 2012.

Enterprise Ireland is the Irish government agency responsible for promoting export sales and jobs for Irish business globally. It is the largest VC in Europe and the second worldwide (by deal flow). It is responsible for €4.8bn in exports. To continue the strategic shift in the export footprint from a UK focus to a Eurozone one, Enterprise Ireland crafted its Eurozone Strategy 2020 to achieve specific successes in working with Irish companies. These were: 300 new exporters to the Eurozone, 200 clients growing exports from €200k to more than €500k, and a 50 % increase in annual exports to the Eurozone (€6.15bn) as well as three €1bn markets and two €0.5 markets.

To accomplish this, Enterprise Ireland identified a need to increase support for Irish client companies entering and scaling in the Eurozone. This would draw on the success of other Enterprise Ireland clients that had already achieved significant export success in the core Eurozone markets of the Netherlands, Germany, France and Belgium as well as Spain and Italy. A new four-month intensive programme would thus seek to inspire the target group to do the same.

The “Enter the Eurozone” initiative was born

The programme targeted approximately 600 to 700 Irish companies with an established market offering but not yet exporting to the rest of the Eurozone. The companies in this group have a minimum annual turnover of €500,000 (established business model), are exporting a minimum of €25,000 annually to the UK or a market outside the Eurozone, and are not significantly (under €25,000) exporting to the Eurozone. A core aim of the “Enter the Eurozone” programme would be thus to give Irish companies the sales and marketing skills, confidence, and motivation to win their first significant contract in a core Eurozone market. This aim underpinned the entire design, development and delivery of the programme.

Strength in collaboration

Enterprise Ireland sought partners with specific market entry knowledge to design and deliver a unified programme that could build on existing sales and marketing frameworks and give due consideration to the culture of the Irish SME. Via a competitive procurement process, the international business school ESMT Berlin was selected for its experience in training delivery for executives, and Galway-based IMS Marketing was selected for its expertise in one-to-one business advising, especially on international market entry planning and implementation.

The programme successfully blended Eurozone locations (Berlin and Paris for the first cohort) for inspiration, Irish locations (Dublin) for convenience, and “eiLearn,” Enterprise Ireland’s online learning support platform (which was supported by IMS business advisors) for effectiveness. As a team, the partners had three months – in tight, near-seamless collaboration – to design, recruit, and deliver an effective learning and mentoring programme for Irish SMEs before the original Brexit date of October 31, 2019.

The expertise of all three parties, the experience and support of internal Enterprise Ireland divisions, the collaborative process and the adaptation to the culture of the Irish SME were key factors in the success of the entire program, resulting in tailored learning content as well as practical templates for participants along their market entry journey. The progress that clients made between Day 1 and the finale – with a specific, budgeted MEP (Market Entry Plan) with clear targets and next steps – was dramatic.

Modular and tailored learning with results

Let’s look for a moment at the case of Campion Connect.

For 30 years, Campion employees in Tipperary and Dublin have sold, installed, and serviced pumps in Ireland. In response to the global digital transformation, Campion developed its own software platform and a smartphone app, with which the company has successfully served Irish clients that include Three Arena, Irish Water, Dublin Airport, and The Convention Centre. But the company had no clear idea about how to expand its market to other EU countries or how to identify and price its software for those potential customers.

Like Campion, each company started the Enter the Eurozone programme with varying degrees of management skills and experience. But the five-phase, four-month programme developed by Enterprise Ireland, ESMT Berlin, and IMS was designed for impact.

“The Enter the Eurozone programme provided clients with a clear goal of winning their first Eurozone contract”, said Keelin Fagan, head of client learning and development at Enterprise Ireland.
With the one-to-one guidance of Enterprise Ireland’s business advisors and built in peer-to-peer support, clients completed each phase with the knowledge and skills specific to their stage in the MEP journey. The module-based approach ensured that all companies made progress towards developing a MEP for their chosen Eurozone market.

Phase 1: Starting the journey

A typical failing is that companies often approach the market using a shotgun approach, trying to enter too many markets with too few resources. The key element of this phase was the selection of the target Eurozone market as a “working assumption” (i.e., clients could change their selection later). The client companies made this choice following one-to-one meetings with Enterprise Ireland and IMS Marketing personnel. Making a market choice brought a strategic focus to each client’s journey into the Eurozone.

Phase 2: Market intelligence

During this phase, clients took initial steps in researching their target Eurozone market. This process, which included practical templates and was supported by individual mentoring, ensured that many companies were following a market- data-led approach (in many cases for the first time). The companies had to answer key questions:

  • Why is this market attractive?
  • What makes it attractive?
  • How do we believe we can be successful in this target market?

The process also brought client realisation that market intelligence was a continuous process. (A key programme impact: many of the companies continued their market research and validation efforts after the programme’s conclusion).

Phase 3: Berlin module

Two senior representatives from each client company traveled to Berlin for campus-based workshops delivered by ESMT. In some cases, this was the first time they had invested significantly in this type of executive training and development. The work from previous phases gave clients the foundation to use what they would learn in the strategic workshops delivered by ESMT. Specifically:

  • The “Business Model and Value Proposition Canvas” workshop and peer-to-peer learning opportunities helped the companies formulate their market entry strategy.
  • “Organisational Decision Making” made companies realise why and how to engage the whole organisation in the market entry project.

After Berlin, the client representatives returned to Ireland where, over the four weeks that followed, Enterprise Ireland business advisors helped each company integrate these lessons into their market entry strategy. These interventions focused on fine-tuning the value proposition and revisiting some of their market research gaps.

Phase 4: Paris module

The business advisors also prepared the clients for their visit to Paris. There, strategic workshops were delivered by ESMT in areas such as sales strategy, route-to-market options, and business negotiations. The impacts from this phase were demonstrated by the “before” and “after” comparison of each client’s MEP, which were shared with IMS Marketing, ESMT, and Enterprise Ireland.

Phase 5: Market entry plan

The end goal of the journey was a completed and tested MEP by each participant company, as well as equipping them with the practical items they needed to know in the next six to nine months as they executed their MEP and sought to gain their first significant contract.

In the case of Campion, the five-phase Enter the Eurozone programme increased its potential for success in the Eurozone market. The programme helped Campion identify its target potential in entering a new market, in terms of both short and long-term revenues, and the value of using partners to grow its presence in the EU. The company now has a business development manager for export sales, is attending an international market expo for its industry, and is in discussions with real customers in its new Eurozone market.

Market entry is a multifaceted challenge. Irish companies must learn the skills for market entry, not just have the information handed to them. Given the scale of the challenge and the Eurozone targets of Enterprise Ireland, the Enter the Eurozone initiative demanded an ambitious response – one that would unify previous one-to-one support with a learning and development (L&D) approach towards an end goal of market entry.

And in the end the Enter the Eurozone initiative achieved for Irish clients what it intended – namely the knowledge and skills to build and execute their MEP and gain their first significant contract in a thriving Eurozone marketplace.

Watch the partnership project video.

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