World Domination: 4 ‘Take-Over-the-World’ Tips from Startup Global at 1776
Digital startups operate with a “take-over-the-world” mindset—and with potential new customers and revenue streams, international markets certainly have their appeal. Yet, they come with a unique set of challenges for startups to navigate as well.
On April 2, the U.S. Department of Commerce launched its Startup Global initiative with a pilot program at 1776 in Washington, D.C.. The program is an effort to encourage U.S. startups to pursue a global vision and to expand their work internationally, and the DOC is holding four of these pilot sessions. They’re designed to help entrepreneurs know what it takes to go global, to be aware of what resources are available along the way, navigate the international regulatory landscape, build partnerships, and to understand best practices in privacy and licensing issues.
The workshop at 1776 convened over 30 startups interested in expanding to global markets, and they heard from a mix of entrepreneurs, corporate executives, and government officials. Speakers from the Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration and the U.S. Patent and Trademark office addressed the crowd, along with representatives from the Small Business Administration, Export DC, eBay, GE, and Deloitte.
For entrepreneurs across the U.S. debating whether or not to expand internationally, we have four key takeaways from the day.
Think Global from Day One
In the day’s opening session, Marcus Jadotte, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Industry and Analysis, emphasized the importance of thinking about a global venture from the earliest days of one’s business. Even if that reality doesn’t materialize until years down the road, a global perspective can shape a product or business model from the beginning.
Too often, though, startups don’t prepare that way. When startups expand too quickly or are underprepared to go global, they run into trade-related barriers and are unaware of the resources available to them. Yet, by taking the initiative to address potential barrier in advance, startups are better positioned for success when they do take the global leap.
1776 member Rebel Desk is one startup that wants to make that leap. However, the company’s biggest challenge is figuring out how to sell electronic products legally in Europe, says Cofounder Kathleen Hale. When she’s researching regulations and legislation, it’s critical that the information she finds online is still applicable, accurate, and up to date.
Prepare for Success
Whether small details or big picture concepts, entrepreneurs need to anticipate how going global will affect their business model—and plan accordingly. The startups first heard from a panel of 1776 members that have experienced both success, and encountered roadblocks.
Patrick Parodi, cofounder and CEO of Wireless Registry, who has said that entrepreneurs who want to go global need to ensure that the composition of not only their teams, but their investors as well, takes global ambitions into account.
Similarly, startups must assess whether they are “export ready” and whether their product is unique in the global market. The panelists suggested BusinessUSA as a helpful resource in preparing for export. In addition, panelists agreed that patents can attract investors because they provide evidence of a unique product.
Know Your Resources
According to a DOC press release, “This is the first time the Department of Commerce has partnered with business incubators and the startup community to provide the know-how and technical assistance they need to export their goods and services to the 95 percent of global consumers outside the United States.”
While the Startup Global initiative is a fantastic start, panelists—and startups in the audience—agreed that the government needs to do a better job of making its resources known. At the same time, entrepreneurs must do their homework and take advantage of resources that are available. It’s a both-and situation.
Navigate International Regulations
Trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets are important for business owners to understand, said Susan Anthony, an attorney at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Further, it’s important to have a firm grasp on both U.S. and international intellectual property rights and protection.
Thaddeus Burns, senior legal counsel at General Electric, urged startups to align intellectual property strategy with business strategy. He also noted that it’s important to sign nondisclosure agreements before sharing trade secrets.
Moreover, entrepreneurs must to protect their business by agreeing to strong terms and conditions, said Giovanna Cinelli, chair of the Export Controls and National Security Practice. Entrepreneurs need to do their “due diligence” when onboarding their partners and customers.
These takeaways are a good place to start for any startup considering going international. Through three other seminars similar to the one held at 1776, the Department of Commerce will collect data and measure demand in order to shape a national program. In the next several months seminars will be held in Cincinnati, Ohio; Nashville, Tennessee; and Arlington, Texas.
“Many U.S. entrepreneurs and early-stage companies are poised to rapidly expand to global markets as a means of growing their customer base and sales,” Penny Pritzker, U.S. Secretary of Commerce, said. “We look forward to expanding our working partnerships with incubators like 1776, to help entrepreneurs think global from day one.”