Interview with Lillan Henseler, Partners for International Business (PIB) programme manager
What does your work at the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO.nl) entail exactly, and what are the topics?
"For a year now, I've been the programme manager for Partners for International Business (PIB). This involves groups of at least five businesses (usually SMEs) that are attempting to gain access to a foreign market together, in collaboration with the Dutch Government. The business case is set out in a covenant. I support entrepreneurs during the entire process of a PIB programme."
"I manage several PIB programmes, on topics ranging from healthcare in China to food technology in Ukraine and cybersecurity in Japan."
"In addition to this work, I also am an account manager for the ICT sector. Within our department, we have a different account manager for each Top Sector. ICT is an extremely interesting sector! Take subjects like blockchain, virtual reality, robotics and the Internet of Things; these all have the potential of drastically changing our world. I keep a close eye on developments in the ICT sector and investigate ways my department might be able to support ICT businesses."
Could you explain how a PIB works in practice?
"Suppose a trade mission has taken place. Perhaps a number of companies now see great opportunities for exports related to cybersecurity. In that case, they can schedule an intake meeting with me, in which I explain the entire PIB programme in detail."
"They then develop a business case, listing their main competitors and detailing their own unique selling points. We subsequently assess their business case, requesting input from various experts, including colleagues at the Ministry and embassy. That's what I really enjoy the most about PIBs: liaising with so many parties."
"If this all ends up a ‘Go!’, we then start drafting an action plan together. The plan outlines the activities involved in entering the market. These will differ from country to country. Take China, for example. There it's important to stress that you are working in collaboration with the Dutch Government. In Germany, on the other hand, it might be a good idea to participate in a trade fair like the Hannover Messe."
"Alongside a Holland Branding strategy, the action plan could include trade missions, or visits to trade fairs and seminars. Other options include G2G (government to government) and K2K (knowledge to knowledge) programmes. Or perhaps a liaison in the country is called for. You really need to customise your approach!"
What does your working week look like?
"My week is always packed with meetings and consultations, both internal and external ones. I liaise a lot with the embassy and the coordinator on behalf of the businesses."
"Setting up a PIB really takes a lot of thought, requiring a lot of sparring together. Each of the various parties has its own perspectives and interests. It's vital to integrate these into something that all parties are happy to agree to."
"It's funny to be doing this, since just prior to now, I worked at the embassy in Malaysia, helping set up a PIB. It's really seeing things from the other side! At the time, it did make me realise how large a role an embassy plays in such a PIB."
How do you help entrepreneurs in conducting international business?
"For a PIB, we select businesses that complement each other. So what a business gains from a PIB will differ from company to company. In our government role, the interests of the entire sector comes first."
"An excellent example of a successful PIB is Japan cybersecurity. The first major orders are now coming in. However, orders won't automatically start flowing your way just because you're participating in a PIB. You really need to get involved as a company and make an effort."
What are you most proud of?
"I've been working here for a year now. I'm learning a lot and am able to make great strides in my development. I really enjoy the fact that when you sign a PIB covenant, all of the parties are there together. Everyone is always brimming with enthusiasm and energy."
Do you have any questions about conducting international business? In that case, get in touch with Lillan Henseler or call the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO.nl) on 088 042 42 42.