When Friendly Lunches Lead to Business Launches
April 18, 2018 2:29 PM
Ireland’s economy is booming now, but not too many years ago, Ireland was in a deep recession. So, a fair number of enterprising Irish business people crossed the sea to the UK, looking for new opportunities. Imagine their surprise when they learned there was a gulf greater than a mere body of water separating the two countries.
In Ireland, the business community is truly a community. Everyone helps out everyone else. But in the UK, says Diane Birch, Board Member and Executive Director at the British & Irish Trading Alliance (BITA), “That network didn't exist. The way of doing business was very different. And so they thought ‘Well, we've got to make contact, so how are we going to do that?’”
A number of those new-to-the-UK business people began getting together for informal lunches and networking. “If one needed work, or wanted a referral, or a testimonial, that person would ask another who would contact his contact, who would then work to get the person what he needed,” says Birch.
At first, they used their own contacts to help each other. With each introduction, the contacts between Irish and UK business people grew. And as the group expanded to helping others outside their original crowd, the end result became BITA.
British businesswoman and marketing expert Diane Birch says she was first invited by a client to one of BITA’s London lunches, where she was introduced to BITA president Paul Whitnell. At the time, attendance had already swelled from a cozy group to about 40 people.
Whitnell told her he hoped to make BITA a force to be reckoned with, one that would make a real difference, encouraging trade between Britain and Ireland. He also told her he wanted to see Ireland come back to its former strength, and believed that Britain could benefit from the experience and the skills and the knowledge of Irish people. And vice versa.
“I could see that the business had potential as a networking organization,” she recalls, and agreed to join the board.
Today, BITA operates in both Ireland and the UK, and the London lunches host as many as 160 attendees. In Liverpool, a new chapter, meetings attract up to 75 business people, and in Dublin, it’s about 100.
We asked Birch how people made productive connections at BITA events.
“You would tell one of the board members what kind of business you are looking for,” Birch says. “Then that board member would try to make that connection for you. And if you were to come along to a lunch, for instance, you would be placed at a table that was within the sort of area that you were looking to target.”
She also stresses that it’s more than just lunch. “We have very good partnerships with embassies on both sides,” says Birch. “We also have relationships with the British-Irish Chamber of Commerce. It's not a happenstance. It's something that we strategically make sure that we do.”
BITA conducts educational seminars presented by members with expertise in various areas and also invites outside speakers to BITA lunches. Among the hot topics is how Brexit is going to affect them and their businesses. “From the point of view as an organization we don't have an opinion,” says Birch. “We will support whatever happens after Brexit. What we want is for whatever happens to be successful.
“In some ways, I personally think, organizations like BITA are going to become more and more important after Brexit because there will be more requirements for communications to continue.”
BITA also helps those who want to launch products in either country, including an American company called CCBT that offers a software package that helps people to cope with the challenges of mental illness. Another software company, Simply Workflow of Ireland, is getting a boost in their forays into the UK from BITA connections.
And Birch says that’s a way that WebPort Global members can take advantage of BITA. “If you've got a product that you want to launch either in Ireland or in the UK, the British and Irish Trade Alliance can help you do that by putting you in touch with the right people, by helping you to get your brand name out, and by providing advice and support.”
For more information about BITA, please visit: www.bita.ie
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