Internationalisation: when your business needs to take the next step into other markets

Waiting for the right moment for internationalisation is a big challenge. The start-up landscape in NRW helps you to take the next step at the right time.

Taking the step into internationalisation too soon can cause difficulties for start-ups – too late, and markets can be lost.

In principle, the rule of thumb is as follows: virtually no start-up is ever too small for internationalisation these days, even if coverage of international markets is not central to the business model. However, the solution for each business is highly individual to each business model – good advice significantly increases the chances of success.

Start-up institutions help and provide advice on progressing your business ‘beyond borders’.

Through the Scale-up.NRW programme, the state government supports fast-growing start-ups from NRW with scaling and expansion into international markets in line with their needs. The start-ups benefit from access to an international network when launching locally, along with contact with international investors, information about the local market and cultural and legal frameworks.

Local advice and expertise

Experts at NRW.Global Business (information in German only) provide support, for example, through regular events on internationalisation strategies. This includes participation in trade fairs abroad that are supported by the government of North Rhine-Westphalia as well as the Chambers of Commerce and Industry (information in German only) and the German Chambers of Commerce Abroad.

The regional Startercenter NRW provides contacts and information on the internationalisation of a business idea.

International networks

Contacts are also needed to ensure internationalisation runs smoothly. There are particular networks for this, depending on the market – some are more institutionalised than others. Programmes such as the ‘German Accelerator’ establish contacts, for example, in New York, Silicon Valley or Southeast Asia.

National sponsorships

When it comes to finance, it also helps to take a look at what is on offer in your own state. Support at national level is also available for start-ups.

Information and advice is available from iXPOS, the official portal for German foreign trade promotion.

Businesses are also eligible to participate at international trade fairs: the Federal Office of Economics and Export Control (BAFA) promotes the foreign trade fair programme (information in German only). As part of the programme, start-ups, together with other businesses, can attend trade fairs around the world, which would otherwise not be financially viable for them.

There is also the ‘Exhibition programme for young, innovative businesses’ (information in German only) run by the Federal Ministry of Economics. Support is also available to businesses wanting to participate in international trade fairs in Germany. As a minimum requirement, these trade fairs need to be relevant across regions. Exhibitors and visitors also need to be international. The Federal Ministry of Economics decides which trade fairs are specifically supported. An up-to-date list is available here (in German only).

European Union (EU) sponsorships

The EU offers sponsorships for SMEs and start-ups. One that is particularly worthy of note here is the Horizon 2020 Programme, which provides an opportunity for direct financial support, most of which does not have to be repaid.

The Enterprise Europe Network (EEN) supports start-up businesses with a European and international focus. Under the name of NRW Europa, ZENIT GmbH, the NRW.BANK and NRW International GmbH represent the Enterprise Europe Network in North Rhine-Westphalia. NRW Europa provides information, advice and support with internationalisation and innovation projects when it comes to seeking international partners, technology transfer and the use of grants and subsidies.

International accelerator programmes, such as DeepTech4Good, EIT KIC (Knowledge and Innovation Communities of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology) or EIC Accelerator Pilot provide funding and support for innovative ideas from young start-ups.