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Beating the Odds: How one company established an international Business and Brand during the IT Downturn
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Jeffrey Peel
Technology Marketing, Quadriga Consulting

Barbara Kohn
Public Relations, Kohn PR

Some would say that the time to start a company focused on business acceleration supporting technology companies with international growth aspirations was not early 2002. But that is exactly when Gareth White and Glenn Hardy decided to make the leap and set up a new business called Simentra - the name representing Strategic investment for Market entrance. And, so far, despite all the challenges, Simentra is fast becoming a real story about developing an international business and brand.

A year and a half on, Simentra has offices in Northern Ireland, Bracknell in the M4 corridor near London (England's Silicon Valley) and San Jose, CA. These are called Business Resource Centers or Business Acceleration Centers. The firm managed to attract Fred Hoar, a Silicon Valley icon and former VP Communications at companies like Apple, Fairchild, RCA and Genetech. A founder of the Silicon Valley Band of Angels, Fred joined the team as a main board director and drives the company profile in the Valley in addition to some international initiatives with regional development agencies for foreign direct investment plans.

When he accepted the appointment, Hoar made clear just how enthusiastic he was to be joining the Simentra team. "I have been very impressed with the Simentra business model and the opportunity that exists to exploit their business acceleration products and services. It is imperative that this cost effective and reduced risk process to market is applied in modern technology business practice. To realize a more fundamental return on investment, companies need to adopt a process that identifies the most cost effective and reduced risk to achieving sales revenues. Simentra has a model that has global impact, in a business world that increasingly looks to international sales as a parameter of success. The Simentra team is extremely well positioned and has had an impressive growth since inception and I look forward to being part of the team. This is a very exciting venture and I believe that there are exciting initiatives already under way,"

Simentra has, among other projects, been appointed by the Welsh Development Agency in California to promote a series of state-of-the art business incubator facilities called Technium, based in Wales. Early stage technology companies entering the European market have utilized the services - with initial clients including iPIX, Aligo and Support Wizard. It has signed a deal with a leading UK University to support R&D based early stage companies looking at expanding markets overseas.

Late last year it was gold sponsor of Cal-IT 2002 in London. Cal-IT is Europe's opportunity to meet the very best of California's new technology start-ups. Organized by the State of California's Technology, Trade and Commerce Agency (CTTCA), Cal-IT introduces the most promising young technology companies to the European market each year. Over the last six years Cal-IT has proved to be an unbeatable event - previous presenters have included representatives from Clarent, Inktomi, eGain, PacketVideo, Portal Software, LoudCloud and Vicinity.

Evidence of the commitment to California and Silicon Valley came in December last year when Simentra opened its business acceleration unit in the International Business Incubator in San Jose. According to Hardy, "We recognized the need for localized European sales and marketing expertise to accelerate high tech companies international expansion. Our sales and business development team utilize the San Jose office location to develop our business and partner network, establish relationships with the key industry players and promote the use of our Technology Sales Agency process as a means of minimizing the risk and accelerating the growth for international sales contributions," All in all, not bad for a company that kicked off in the midst of one of the worst IT recessions to be remembered.

The founders have been round the blocks a few times and know all about the trials and tribulations of establishing a company and maintaining its viability for the long term. They have also faced the challenge of marketing and selling technology products and services in international markets for a variety of companies such as Cognos, the Business Intelligence firm and Lumioo, an analytical CRM start-up. Having worked with large companies with mature technology and invested and driven smaller companies with little market presence or gravitas, they are familiar with the challenges being faced by their clients.

According to White, this combined experience has given Simentra an edge in supporting R&D based firms with great ideas but little street savvy. "We work very closely with academic research departments that spin out great potential business concepts. However, commercializing those concepts and putting them into markets is a great challenge for early stage companies. Part of what Simentra does is help with the transformation process. We help get products market ready and then we will work with entrepreneurs to get them sales revenues in a number of markets."

"We believe that there is a great opportunity for businesses and academic institutions and business incubators to share knowledge in order to encourage trade. Even though Silicon Valley has a more advanced funding engine for R&D based businesses, often these businesses flounder when seeking partners or channels in Europe. Conversely, European companies often overlook the networking and support opportunities that exist in the valley when they decide to enter the US. We aim to provide a bridgehead."

Simenta now formally addresses these strands by having dedicated business units with senior team members focusing on technology areas - including Health Sciences, Telecoms and Software - and on government and academic institutions that work with R&D based early stage businesses. The challenge is to get the strands to cross-fertilize each unit and create a set of processes that support clients' needs for international expansion - the company having recently signed new partnerships in both Canada and Australia.

Simentra has developed product packages that describe their offering succinctly. Similar businesses have failed in the past because business objectives have been laudable but understanding the offer was difficult. Simentra offers packages of services aimed at early stage market entry. These programs (Charter Series and TechStart) provide companies with the early stage due diligence work and help with marketing and sales planning. Simentra Tech Sales is a technology sales agency that allows technology companies to penetrate the markets in the UK and other key European regions.

Simentra has a vision of becoming a truly international start-up very quickly indeed. It has already established an interesting portfolio of business and an impressive line-up of senior staff. The company is entirely self-funded - which gives it the opportunity to define itself as the senior management team sees appropriate. Like all companies focused on the ICT space, it will have its fair share of problems convincing cash strapped businesses to part with cash for external support. But, so far, Simentra has put itself on an international map and for that alone it deserves every credit.

"Across the Pond - A Transatlantic CEO's Perspective on Establishing A Global Business" is a monthly column that takes a look at an emerging technology company whose business needs require establishing operations in some other part of the world. Whether it's a Silicon Valley company setting up operations Europe, Asia or Latin America or an overseas company establishing a presence in Silicon Valley -- Barbara Kohn in SV and Jeffrey Peel in Northern Island -- look at the steps - and missteps - companies make when going global. More about Barbara & Jeff...

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