By Kate Madley
“Don’t forget that there is a massive world out there.”
That was the message from Wales’s first billionaire, Sir Terry Matthews, to Welsh businesses in an exclusive interview with Wales World Wide this week.
Visiting Swansea University for the launch of Global Entrepreneur Week, the Canada-based entrepreneur told WWW that businesses need international ambitions but should start by building a strong local base – with government help.
“It’s always good if you can get local business – local business ought to be easier than getting global business,” he said.
“In every country the government is the single biggest buyer and should encourage their corporate citizens. Companies are just like you and I, they have rights, they pay taxes, and the government should help them grow and count them in as part of procurement.
“What if you are a Welsh company trying to do business in Germany, France, Poland or the US and your competitors say ‘they can’t even sell to their own government’? That would be a black mark before you’ve even started. So you have to think in terms of having advantages in your own country. You have to start with that.”
But Sir Terry also believes Welsh companies should ‘go out of their way’ to trade internationally – and says the key to success is finding good local partners.
“Don’t forget that there is a massive world out there,” he said. “The UK has 65 million people, but there are 95 million people in the Guangdong province alone in China, and that’s just one of the 33 Chinese provinces. There are 1.3 billion people in China – if you took out 65 million people, they wouldn’t even know! How about India? 1.3 billion people, and they all speak English.
“You have to go out of your way to go around the world, in particular the growing economies. One trip alone might be encouraging but it doesn’t generate business – you have to be there with a local partner, make yourself familiar. You have to be deep-rooted.
“For a little company it is very hard to be global. But it’s easier than it was 20 years ago because of the internet. Websites can be seen by anyone. Your end device – be it a smart phone, iPad or PC – allows you to use the web and find stuff out. If you utilise the new tools they can make a huge difference.”
Global Enterprise Week is a worldwide campaign taking place in over 100 countries, aimed at improving skills for aspiring entrepreneurs and start-ups.
University students Ben Harrison and Jezz Skelton, founders of award winning Mango Bikes, told the event at Swansea University how they developed and launched their business while still students at the university.
“I never wanted to leave university and go into a job, I have always wanted to have my own business,” explained Jezz.
“Since our launch we have sold bikes all over, in countries such as America, France, Australia and more. Our bikes are a fashion accessory, we wanted to create something that was simple, looked good and would be appealing.”
At the launch, teams of Swansea University students pitched their business models to Terry Matthews and chief executive of the Wesley Clover Corporation, Simon Gibson.
The student start-up businesses were then given between £50 and £250 and set the task of making a profit within 8 weeks. Entries varied from mobile apps which identified butterflies, naked calendars to an industrial bag for surveyors.
Sir Terry told the students: “Persistence – that’s the single most important word for success.”