Insights from E3 Dublin: An interview with conference organiser Adrienne Lea Palmer

Last month, Atlantic Leap partner Evan Rudowski spoke at the Entrepreneurship Export Exchange (E3) in Dublin as part of a panel on internationalization strategies for Irish startups. The conferences – which take place across Europe, the US and beyond each year – offer a programme of talks, networking, panel discussions and presentations aimed at helping entrepreneurs expand globally.

Post-E3 Dublin, we caught up with Conferences Director Adrienne Lea Palmer. Adrienne founded, built and exited her Dallas-based business, Insite Interactive - where she served as President and CEO for 19 years - and has served as a global board member of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization. She’s a leader with a firm handle on global entrepreneurship, so we caught up with her to get her thoughts on the key insights to come out of the event.

Insight 1: Brexit could be a great thing for Ireland

The conference featured plenty of discussion of the UK’s upcoming exit from the EU – and with a positive sentiment towards the decision. “Most of the conversation was around the opportunity it’s opening up for Irish companies”, says Adrienne. “A lot of the things that UK companies may have taken advantage of in the past might be more challenging for them now, but may open up opportunities for the Irish companies to swoop in and take some of those positions.”

The conference also covered the impact Brexit would have on internationalization – in both directions. Many businesses that may have considered landing and expanding in London are now looking at Dublin instead – but for Irish companies looking to expand overseas, is London still the natural next step, or are other options being considered?

According to Adrienne, a good percentage of the 90-100 business owners at the conference already run some business operations in the UK. “One of their reasons for being excited about coming to the conference was to learn about alternative markets”, she said, “particularly the US in this case. When everyone is in the Eurozone there’s free trade and everybody’s happy – you might as well all be in the same country. Now, though, the UK is no longer part of that. If you’re going to go through the complication of having to go through internationalization, you might just as well go with the US where you have a much bigger and much more diverse market.

“The US is three hundred and twenty million people and geographically so much larger and more diverse, meaning plenty of different opportunities for different industries.”

Insight 2: There is much concern over US trade policy

With the insecurity of the Trump presidency, everybody wants to talk about whether it will become more difficult for companies from overseas to do more business in the US: “That’s the elephant in the room,” says Adrienne. “Interestingly, at the DC conference in June we had the Acting Under Secretary of Commerce speaking, and he made a big point of saying that while the Trump administration is certainly interested in keeping jobs within the US, it’s also very pro-business and very pro-international trade.”

There’s no desire, he shared, to shut down American businesses trading abroad, or foreign businesses trading in the US. “However, there will be a leaning towards trying to put policies in place that encourage keeping more jobs in the US, incentivising US companies to keep jobs here and making it more valuable to do so.”

The E3 conferences are produced by consultancy The Global Situation Room (GSR): a firm made up of partners from the past White House administration and with relationships from many US and foreign trade groups. “It means we have the contacts, the knowledge and the background to increase US trade”, says Adrienne. “The belief is very strong amongst the entire GSR team, myself included, that international trade of all kinds is good for the world.”

In her view, the more economic connections can be created between nations, the more jobs can be created globally, the more global economic stability can be increased, and the more likely it is that a unified approach to trade will be possible, “creating a better world for all of us”.

The US trade position was summed up at E3 by a speaker from the World Trade Centre in Dublin. Her view, says Adrienne, was that “all of this policy talk is valuable, but at the end of the day, entrepreneurs are not that interested. All they want to do is get the job done, so let’s just help bring resources to the table to help them do that.” While it’s important to understand what the policies will be and which hurdles need to be jumped, the focus needs to be on how to solve the problem, not on being stopped by a policy issue.

With both Brexit and US trade policy, the general response was the same, says Adrienne. “Where other people might see obstacles, entrepreneurs see opportunities. Entrepreneurs don’t generally do business based on where it’s the easiest. They go where the most opportunity is, and they figure out how to get round any obstacles.”

Insight 3: The US is more than just Silicon Valley, New York and Boston

Irish firms tend to be drawn to these three locations as they represent their most competitive markets. “A large percentage of the Boston population is Irish”, says Adrienne, “and with New York and Silicon Valley, they’re two big markets where everybody assumes all the VC money is. The truth is, they’re just the most competitive markets so may not offer the best incentives: the best tax credits, the best employment training programmes and so on.”

The Dublin conference featured experts from four alternative US markets – Kansas City, Minnesota, Mississippi and Georgia – to explain how their governments are working to entice foreign businesses and/or foreign investment.

“The purpose was two-fold”, says Adrienne. “They were also invited to help business owners to understand what they should be looking for when expanding to the US.”

“Some of these alternative markets are doing things like employee training programmes, where they invest money to train employees to be experts in whatever role you’re looking to fill. They may offer tax incentives for real estate, or might offer certain subsidies in setting up different kinds of operations.”

She explained that in New York and Silicon Valley, such things are less commonly expected as there is less need to compete on that level, thanks to the markets’ popularity.

The conference also raised awareness of the fact that certain markets, she added, specialise in certain industries. “If you’re looking at the biotech sector, Minnesota is one of the top markets in the US. If you’re looking into manufacturing, Mississippi is a hub, investing around $50 million a year into employee training.”

For Adrienne, a huge takeaway from the conference was that while many Irish firms assume they have to go to New York or Silicon Valley because “that’s where the investment money is”, there are plenty of alternatives – which may even offer better incentives.

She described a conference talk from Paul Byrne, CEO of Dublin-based CurrencyFair, whose keynote praised the positives that Dallas has to offer to Irish businesses. “He went into great detail about the tax benefits and the accessibility: we have one of the biggest airports, and we are right in the centre of the country, meaning we can get to anywhere in the US within two and a half hours. Having Paul talk about this from the point of view of an Irish business really hammered the point home.”

Insight 4: The impact of internationalization on lifestyle

From an economic point of view, there was little that surprised Adrienne at the Dublin E3 event - but one thing that stood out was how overseas expansion can impact on lifestyle. “There was quite a bit of discussion about the impact on your family”, she says, “the impact on your focus and your business and on you as an entrepreneur. I was really inspired by just how willing people were to talk about it.”

Part of this came from the panel discussion in which Evan was involved: a session involving four entrepreneurs, all doing business on both sides of the pond. “I was really inspired by the willingness of people to be honest about the commitment it’s going to take to really be invested in doing business in the US from the UK or from Ireland”, said Adrienne. “The panel were talking about the realities of it all: the impact it has on your family, the time difference, being up on calls all night long, making decisions about where you’re going to invest your energy or how much time you need to be overseas. I liked that about the Dublin event, because it’s a truth of the matter that you have to make a decision.”

Thanks go to Adrienne for sharing her thoughts. The next European E3 conference takes place in Madrid this October, with the team considering a further event in London in Q1 2018. Dublin is likely to be on the agenda once again in 2018, as a market that the team are very committed to. Keep an eye on the E3 website for updates.