Small green companies take on big export challenge
A network of small and start-up companies , all based at Lancaster University, are proving that firms don't have to be big to export.
Crowberry Consulting, Cognoscenti Compliance, Stopford Projects and BEEcycle each work in the environmental sector from premises at the Lancaster Environment Centre’s knowledge exchange and research building.
The smallest has just one member of staff and the youngest was established only last year, nevertheless all have turned to UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) to sound out their chosen markets and establish contacts who can help send their goods and services overseas.
Clive Drinkwater, UKTI's International Trade Director for the North West, said: "There may be a belief in some quarters that foreign trade is only for big multinational firms but that plainly isn't true and the overseas vision shown by these ambitious Lancaster-based companies demonstrates that fact very effectively.
"By looking to expand into new overseas markets they stand not only to become more competitive and produce better goods and services, but they also become less reliant on the domestic economy.
"The assistance and support UKTI is able to offer allows smaller organisations to concentrate on their core business without the time-consuming distractions of having to navigate through new and often very different marketplaces."
The four companies are:
Becky Toal founded the consultancy in 2006 to provide businesses with advice on environmental management, ethical issues and corporate responsibility, she said: "Companies have really woken up to the low carbon economy but clients come to us saying 'We already have an environmental policy, how can we make it better?'"
Much of her work now involves assisting organisations aiming to meet ISO 14001, the international environmental management standard. With this in mind Crowberry has signed up to Passport to Export, UKTI's flagship programme for new and inexperienced exporters, and has commissioned an Overseas Market Introduction Service (OMIS) report which led to an April trade mission to Turkey.
Becky explained: "I want to grow my business with an international focus from day one. Time and time again history will demonstrate that companies which trade overseas are successful businesses, and the support UKTI gives to start-ups is critical."
Environmental law is regularly updated and Cognoscenti Compliance provides software to companies working within the sector which ensures they are aware of the latest changes.
Although the firm was only established last year it already has an extensive database of clients throughout the UK and is now looking to grow on the back of European legislation and EU expansion.
Cognoscenti Compliance, which has a staff of just three, is investigating opportunities in Kosovo but is also looking to break into Germany and France. Its MD Tom Fuller said: "Because the environmental industry is growing so quickly people are picking up on this idea of compliance software. We already have the model and the system so I believe we should be capitalising on that as quickly as we can. Ultimately the goal for us is to have a system that covers the whole of Europe.
"We are looking to UKTI to introduce us to environmental consultants and translators in Germany and France because, with our resources, we simply could not do that level of research, it is the kind of work we would have to ship out to someone else."
Kenneth Cheung is BEEcycle, a company which has both an educational and commercial eye on the composting sector. He also offers consultancy services for organisations wanting to establish their own wormeries.
BEEcycle has produced the OvO recycling tool; a self-contained, self-watering, table-top wormery which breaks down food waste within days. A seed or plant can then be added so that the wormery becomes a plant pot. This low-maintenance demonstration of how an ecosystem works is the product which Kenneth anticipates will spark interest from educators - particularly primary school teachers.
But he also has ambitions in the commercial food waste sector, he said: "UKTI have helped provide support for market research in Hong Kong for commercial waste treatment, and in Taiwan for the OvO. It has allowed me to get in touch with the people I need to speak to without me having to spend a lot of my own time researching them. If I had not been in touch with UKTI I may not have been able to look overseas for another year, maybe even two."
Stopford, with its 100-strong staff, split across four offices nationally, is the largest of the four companies based at the Centre. Established in 1982 to provide engineering design and project management services, Stopford has now developed a specialism in waste to energy and environmental technology schemes. It is now one of the fastest growing design engineering and management consultancies in the UK, specialising in the petrochemical, pharmaceutical, energy, environment and biotechnology sectors worldwide.
With support from UKTI the company has embarked on two trade missions to international conferences; Pollutec 2008 in Lyon, and January's World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi. Dr. Ben Herbert, Research and Development Manager at Stopford, said: "The assistance that UKTI can provides means these trips are a lot more affordable, thus reducing the cost of exploring overseas markets."
Stopford is particularly keen to develop waste to energy and waste treatment projects which are now being driven by national and international legislation. Dr. Herbert said: "UKTI is very good at highlighting overseas opportunities for Stopford. I am travelling to Turkey in late April through UKTI to continue developing existing relationships with Turkish clients, with a view to establishing business opportunities in the region."
More information on the four companies can be found on their websites: