Interview with Joren Schep, International Business Adviser.
What does your work at the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO.nl) entail and what topics are you involved in?
"I work for the SME Internationalisation Department, and since late 2015 have been the Business Development Coach (BD Coach) for the United Kingdom. I'm also a programme manager for the Partners International Business (PIB) instrument."
"As BD Coach for the United Kingdom, you engage a lot with entrepreneurs, ministries, sector organisations and chambers of commerce. You also deal with organisations in the Netherlands, as well as with Dutch organisations in the UK, such as the Dutch Embassy in London, or the Netherlands Business Support Office in Manchester. I tend to view us as the Dutch office of the economic foreign countries network."
What does a typical working week look like for you?
"Most weeks I will have as many internal appointments as external ones. There certainly are a lot of meetings, but that comes with the territory as a civil servant. My week is filled up before you know it. The new facility for Dutch businesses concerning Brexit, the Brexitloket, is an excellent example. It's actually a bit too much for a single person to handle. But I'm the initial point of contact. So how can you ensure that this is resolved? That entails consulting with your colleagues and superiors. And the result is that a few new colleagues will be pitching in."
How do you help entrepreneurs in conducting international business?
"Businesses are often unable to really establish what the opportunities are around the world. Sometimes it's a matter of enticing them, asking whether they're aware of the tremendous opportunities that exist somewhere."
"One example is e-mobility and the related charging infrastructure in the UK. Dutch businesses descended in droves on a seminar on the topic. This acts as a kind of survey for the embassy to gauge interest, showing whether it's a subject that needs addressing."
"We then start up a promotion process to support the business sector in question in doing business in the UK. We do so for an extended period of time. For instance, last Thursday we had a British delegation visiting an innovation seminar in Helmond that the Netherlands Enterprise Agency organised."
How does the interaction between government and the business world work?
"Conducting international business is often a matter of chance. Our role as civil servants is to motivate entrepreneurs and raise their enthusiasm. They can learn a lot from their competitors, maybe meeting at an event we have organised. Or they could participate in a trade mission."
"We use the PIB programme to try to bring together the business and government spheres. At the Netherlands Enterprise Agency I act as a sort of middleman, so to speak – a broker."
How do you deal with the questions entrepreneurs have about Brexit?
"Brexit is like a storm cloud looming. Entrepreneurs may be reading the weather reports, but they have no idea what the cloudy skies truly entail. Yet a lot of what is in the offing is already known. The fact that there will be customs procedures, for instance, with increasing costs and delivery times as a result."
"So what you need to do is take a close look at your company and determine how important the UK is to you. If the UK is important, you then need to decide what you have to do to be well prepared. We are conveying this message through all sorts of communication channels. It's gratifying to see that other countries are copying our initiatives."
Which achievement is the one you are most proud of and why?
"I'm very happy with what the Netherlands Enterprise Agency and the Chamber of Commerce presented on 29 March: the 'Brexitloket', the Brexit impact scan and the Brexit vouchers. It's great to see everyone involved and taking credit where credit is due, and simply achieving this together."
"But the public-private partnership, the PIB programme, is something else I'm proud of. As programme manager, your goal is to develop two or three programmes each year. This sometimes leads to great orders coming in from abroad and long-term strategic programmes, which is always cause for celebration. We used to crack open a bottle of champagne, but nowadays we prefer orange juice. We do have to keep our reputation as government body in mind."
Do you have any questions about conducting international business? In that case, get in touch with Joren Schep or call the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO.nl) on 088 042 42 42.