A sit down with World Trade Center Dublin’s Executive Director, David Pierce

With a vast portfolio of international business experience, it is without a doubt that the World Trade Center Dublin’s Executive Director, David Pierce, is a fierce driving force behind the work in helping Irish businesses grow beyond the borders of the Emerald Isle. From assisting young companies in strategizing their export plan, providing unique and tailored opportunities in the enormous China market, and connecting mature exporters to big-box retailers in the U.S., the WTC Dublin certainly has not lacked in activity throughout the pandemic.

Today, we took a few minutes to get a glimpse behind the minds of our operation in hopes of sharing some inspiration on how our small business is growing alongside Ireland’s expanding SME community.

To start with some background, the WTC Dublin is an initiative that began just across the pond in Boston, Massachusetts, and amidst the global community of the World Trade Centers Association, which spans over 100 countries. The WTC Dublin is a family-owned real estate development company, the Drew Company. And yes, the family has deep roots in Ireland and has never strayed far from their origins.

The Drew Company, best known for the development of Boston’s Seaport District with the WTC Boston and Seaport Complex, has always melded their building projects with vital operational elements that have resulted in thriving commercial and residential buildings. Drew operates the second-largest building in the U.S., the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, the hub of international activity in the capital of the U.S. The WTC Dublin provides trade services from its location in Dublin’s Merrion Square. As a result, these developments actively play a part in the economic development of the regions in their regions.

Mr. Pierce, can you tell us a little about your journey as an international business executive?

I started as a CPA out of college, which quickly led me into Corporate Banking at Ulster Bank, where I was in corporate lending. I then moved into asset-based lending and the international business world. Under the NatWest International umbrella for Ulster Bank, my role was to sell Ireland internationally but primarily into the U.S. Back then, the FDI coming into Ireland was industrial and manufacturing principally.

My focus was to see what other segments would be attracted to and benefit from locating in Ireland. As we see today, the opportunities were in the tech, financial services, and life sciences business sectors that understood the importance and significance of Ireland’s unique positioning in the European market and the perfect location for a company’s European hub. Ireland had some international presence with Intel and Digital Corporation and a few software companies in the past. In the last ten years, Ireland has solidified our status as the best place to establish a European presence. Today, we have most of the dominant global businesses, including Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Air BnB, major medical tech, pharmaceuticals, and many more.

Due to my involvement in bringing investment into Ireland, I have always appreciated the value of business relationships. I was appointed President of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce from 2004 to 2005. We ran quite a few critical trade missions that brought Irish and Northern Irish businesses and representatives together with those of Boston and Chicago through the Chamber. I also got an Irish company, NetWatch, a best-in-class proactive video monitoring solutions provider, into the U.S. with their North American Headquarters in Newton, Massachusetts. As my U.S. network expanded, it was not long before I was introduced to the Drew Family, starting with their patriarch, John E. Drew. We were of like minds: we both loved to work very hard, and we both value family above all. It was not a difficult connection to make and introduced me to the business of World Trade Centers and understanding this international organization that today has over 300 trade centers in over 100 countries. When the conversation of activating the Drew Company’s WTC Dublin license and its complimenting online platform WebPort Global, I couldn’t think of a better business organization to introduce into Ireland and our SMEs, and I quickly got involved.

What words of advice do you have for an owner/manager of an SME who wants to move his business to the next level?

When we were strategizing about how best to introduce WTC Dublin to Ireland as an international business support organization, one of the areas that we saw as an opportunity was on the export side and specifically for SMEs, especially after the market collapse in 2008-2009. There were many avenues of support for businesses coming into Ireland. Still, the support for SMEs to expand into international markets or even understand the basics of exporting was an area where we saw a great need. We found immediate opportunities in the food and drink sectors around the world and have seen growth in this sector and categories such as apparel, beauty, and home goods. The WTC Dublin focuses on opportunities that get a product(s) onto shelves. The process takes time, patience, and tight margins; however, the reward in volume is superbly higher and one that any brand with a product needs to consider to grow.

If your company is established locally with a good product and solid investment, my advice is to work with WTC Dublin.

Our business services help Irish SMEs overcome barriers to trade in an efficient and accelerated process that will help them through trade difficulties. If not the WTC Dublin, make sure that you are spending the time to receive sound advice, relevant resources for education, and the right contacts that will help you be successful. Lean on organizations like ours dedicated to bringing wins, expanding networks, and infusing innovative ideas and opportunities to your business. Do not embark on an export strategy alone, especially into the U.S. market. You will quickly find that you lack marketing resources, legal advice, and the ability to efficiently move products across the ocean to a market that genuinely is 50 unique markets covering land far more extensive than Ireland’s. And most importantly, remember that it takes a risk to gain a reward.

The other advice I would give an Irish SME owner is to tell your story. One of the unique differentiators of Ireland’s SMEs is the deep history and roots of many of your businesses that go back a few centuries. The historical story coupled with the present-day product is truly a gem that more companies should utilize when marketing their brand globally.

Why should Irish businesses enter into new markets?

First and foremost, the size of the market. Ireland’s population is 5 million, compared to 330 million in the U.S., 212 million in Brazil, 97 million in Vietnam. Secondly, successful businesses have all gone international out of Ireland. Many large Irish companies started their expansion in the U.S.

If you are in the food industry, this is a powerful category for Irish businesses. While the competition may be significant, Ireland is known for its very green culture, including healthy well-sourced foods.

Likewise, the international attraction and demand are high in the drinks industry, especially Irish Whiskey. We have seen tremendous growth in inquiries, especially from the Eastern European and Asian markets, regarding Irish Whiskey.

What is your view of alternative finance options for SMEs looking to export?

If you are going to grow your business, you need funding and finance. Of course, the cheapest financing is getting a loan from a family, but that doesn’t always happen. The critical thing to think about with investment is how much equity you are willing to give away with the investment. Most businesses have found a way to give equity but maintain business control. Is it better to have small shareholders and maintain value or significant shareholders with a loss of equity? With venture capital (VC) funding, the interest rates currently are nil, and cash is abundantly around with VCs looking to spend; however, for SMEs, I caution this space as VCs look for their fair share of the return./p>

Crowdfunding is an acceptable form of financing; however, for a small business, the initial set up costs may be expensive. With conventional banking options, international invoice financing or invoice discounting is an available option, and trade financing and export financing. However, it would be best if you made sure all your documentation is in place not to jeopardize your funding with these options.

Going back to investments, there are a few schemes that Irish businesses have used, such as the Employment Investment Incentive Scheme (EIIS), which allows up to €2m in investment from various shareholders investing in your business with a tax break that gets paid back in time. If you are looking at project finance capital expenditure, go to conventional banking. If you are looking for working capital to grow the business, look at the alternatives, i.e., investment or invoice discounting.

How do networks help a business grow?

From my experience, it is all about networking. Business is a contact sport; without contact, you are not making the right connections to achieve a successful goal. Having the right connections with like minds that work together to achieve milestones and goals is the most successful way forward.

If you are just getting started and need to expand your network, start with your local Chamber, local business groups, accounting bodies, legal bodies, and industry-specific organizations. The World Trade Center again is also an excellent global network. For example, the trade centers in France are also all chambers of commerce in their regions. In contrast, many others are government-affiliated trade centers that act as their economic development arm.

These are all excellent connections to have when building your business and essential if you are looking to expand into new markets.


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