By Elizabeth Bachman, for the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute
No one doubts the benefits of thinking outside the box for your business. But as today’s trade tends to favor the crossing of oceans into increasingly diverse markets, consider updating this age-old recommendation. Whether for the business tenderfoot or the entrepreneur with wanderlust, think instead outside the borders with these five tips from student entrepreneurs at the University of Utah for taking your business into the wide-open world.
Globalize Your Calling
Before phoning international partners, note your primary advantages to operating abroad. Cam Cameron, an MBA graduate who founded Just Play Cleats — a company that manufactures high-quality, low-cost soccer cleats for international distribution — understood right from the start how his company’s goals would take him outside the U.S.
“(While abroad) I saw first-hand what soccer means to the community everywhere (else) I traveled,” Cameron explains. “I felt that the international component would establish Just Play as a soccer shoe option for players who really needed them.”
Paint Your Target in the Sky
Scope out the best fit for the service you’re offering and the market you’re targeting. “Each sector of the world has a different culture and lifestyle,” says Schaeffer Warnock, a business student who founded ski goggle company Aura Optics. “Just because your product or company is popular in the U.S. doesn’t mean it will be in Norway.”
With these considerations in mind, Cameron’s development of Just Play Cleats has been influenced and shaped by the particular needs of their target markets. By focusing on the lifestyles and playing conditions of their consumers, Just Play Cleats has begun development of equipment specifically suited for turf, terrain and socioeconomic status.
Find the Gap You’re Filling
Determine what the world is lacking now — or would have been lacking had you not come along. The PowerPot, the first product of engineering graduate David Toledo’s company Power Practical, was conceived with the benefits of the world in mind. By capturing and converting the energy of fire into electricity, Power Practical has affected developing markets, transforming family income and bringing electricity to remote locations.
Similarly motivated to bring their product to less wealthy parts of the world are Andrew and Christopher Pagels, bioengineering students and founders of iTest, a device that interfaces with most smartphones to deliver quick and accurate blood test results. During a trip to Mongolia and China, they were surprised to find cell phones and computers readily available to most families.
“People have a difficult time accessing health care, but they have access to smartphones,” Christopher Pagels says. “This is one of the fundamental reasons we decided to launch.”
Dip Your Toe in Many Streams
Keep an open and curious mind in scoping out prospective markets, and you might just be surprised by what you find when you don’t immediately exclude potential opportunities. The foundation of Warnock’s Aura Optics was aided by a Kickstarter campaign, at which time it became clear the company had already drawn substantial international interest.
“We had no idea that we would have much of an international pull,” Warnock says of the backer demographics. “But the pre-orders were split very close down the middle — 50 percent international, 50 percent domestic.”
Soak Up on the Go
Finally, allow yourself to absorb the experience of working with other markets — and don’t expect to know everything before you’ve begun.
“I think reaching out to other people in your field who are doing work internationally can be very helpful,” says Toledo, reflecting on the process of bringing the PowerPot to the market and the importance of staying open to new leads and contacts. “You’d be surprised how many people are willing to help you or give you advice if you ask.”