The Dream Commitment meetings on internationalization generated a large number of interesting observation and policy proposals.
By Per Koch, Innovation Norway
Innovation Norway’s offices abroad were responsible for many of the events, often arranged in collaboration with the relevant Norwegian embassies or consulates.
The need for internationalization
Internationalization was one of the most important topics discussed. This especially applies to the presence of Norwegian companies abroad. Norway, with its five million inhabitants, has a very small home market, which historically has led to a strong global orientation of important parts of the business sector.
Right now the falling oil and gas prices have caused a renewed interest in international expansion. Some of the income and tax revenue generated by exports of petroleum will have to be replaced by other goods and services.
Norwegian industrial clusters are dependent on an efficient flow of technology and competences from abroad, to ensure that the relevant companies are to stay innovative and competitive both on the national and the regional arena.
Companies that focus on the home market learn through interaction with companies that are active internationally. Norwegian companies with a presence abroad may serve as conduits for this type of knowledge dissemination (as may foreign companies with offices in Norway).
Similar effects can be achieved via participation in European projects, as offered under the current framework program Horizon 2020.
Internationalization is therefore much more than a question of exports; it is also about learning, collaboration, networking and financing.
Norwegian strengths and weaknesses
The people taking part in the international Dream Commitment events seem in general to put great trust in the innovative capabilities of Norwegian industry.
The report from the event in the Baltics puts it this way:
“Norwegian companies put great emphasis on human resources and in creating a transparent business society. Companies have a long term view and focus on sustainability. They are also great at creating high quality solutions and at risk management.“
Many point to an autonomous workforce with people with good skills in engineering and planning, an education system that encourages independent thinking and an egalitarian culture and a social welfare system that reduces risk and generates trust. Others argue that Norway represents a brand associated with quality and social and political stability.
The fact that Norwegian society is world leading in utilizing modern technologies, especially in ICT, is seen as another competitive advantage.
On the other hand, many companies lack the competences needed to succeed abroad. This especially applies to necessary insight into the relevant markets and their cultural settings, as well as brand building and networking.
Some argue that many companies lack the sense of urgency needed to make the necessary changes. Moreover, many Norwegian owners sell their companies if and when they become successful internationally.
The Paris panel pointed to the lack of high end products in Norway.
The Dream Commitment Silicon Valley report argues that there is a limited amount of early stage risk capital in Norway and that this causes some companies to seek funding elsewhere:
“There is a good and growing venture capital environment in Norway, but the investors’ requirements may sometimes get in the way for future international efforts. Entrepreneurs who give away control of their own companies at an early stage may find it hard to find more capital in Silicon Valley at a later stage.”
One important message was the need for diversification of activities. The Milan meeting recommended the partners to share competences and know-how through different areas, thus avoiding dependency of one sector in one particular international market.
The Houston session concluded that the recent downward change in oil price increase circulation of talents and ideas from one industry to another:
“Hence it may be a great opportunity for diversification and development of new technology. The progress of new overarching technologies, such as nanotechnology, could create solutions and constitute great opportunities for Norway.”
Participants identify several industrial areas where Norwegian companies may have a competitive advantage.
Many argue that social and environmental challenges present new market opportunities, and that a focus on sustainability therefore also makes sense from a business perspective.
- Green energy, often by way of transferring competences from the offshore oil and gas industry to the development and production of clean and renewable energy.
- Sustainable and environmentally friendly seafood production (fisheries and aquaculture).
- Business-to-business and business-to-government services (within banking, insurance, education, research and development, regulations, standards, certification, verification etc.)
- ICT (especially in the areas of energy, transport, logistics, e-health and e-government).
- Health care.
- Maritime technologies, including ship building.
- Subsea oil and gas and subsea mining.
- Responsible Arctic business development.
The Dream Commitment events presented a wide variety of concrete policy proposals.
- Introduce Mandarin (and other relevant foreign languages) at an early stage in the educational system.
- Help generate more nuanced views of relevant countries and cultures.
- Increase investments in communication — marketing, advertising, brand and reputation building – using the flag and “Made in Norway” as positive symbols.
- Allocate more resources to embassies for promotional activities in the local markets.
- Introduce new and improve existing measures for early stage financing, including incentives that encourage private investors to invest in international expansion of Norwegian companies.
- Coordinate national policy measures and financial support for companies so they complement European grants and programmes in a meaningful way.
- Others ask for tax incentives or tax reductions, especially as regards net wealth taxation.
- Ensure the supply of long term and predictable funding for entering emerging markets.
- Increase R&D efforts in areas where Norwegian industries have natural or historical advantages.
- Stronger focus on industry in Norwegian embassies and consulates
- Strengthening of Team Norway (the promotion of Norway`s economic interests and support Norwegian companies abroad).
- Better communication of strengths and opportunities to foreign media
- Invest resources in market surveillance.
- Use some countries as stepping stones for exploring other markets (like in using Spain as a business hub for Latin America and Africa).
- Further strengthen positive attitudes towards entrepreneurship in Norway as well as the skills needed for new companies to survive, thrive and grow.
- Help entrepreneurs abroad find the right contacts and insight into local market conditions.
- Due diligence of potential partners.